Dealing with MS is Different for Men

March 23, 2015

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) care for men and women--is it a surprise that their MS health care support needs may differ? As with many things in life, one should not assume that everyone has the same needs regardless of gender.  The prevalence of MS affects women about 3 times more often than men. And much of what we know, from social support research in MS, has been done with a predominantly female population.  The reality is that men and women do have different needs.  For example, evidence suggests men spend less time focused on their health and participate in fewer health prevention activities (poorer nutrition, higher alcohol and tobacco use) than women. Men also differ than women in how they experience MS and the type of support/interventions required to address their needs. An article from International Journal of MS Care (What Are the Support Needs of Men with MS, and Are They Being Met?) by Dominic Upton, PhD and Charlotte Taylor, MSc, addresses this subject and more.

One of the aims of the article was to identify support needs of men with MS and evaluate whether these needs were being met by current services. (My conclusion, probably not.)

The article contained information from a study that found definite gender differences in self efficacy of people with MS.  Women had a significantly greater belief in their ability to function with MS than men. 

The article further mentioned, research indicates anxiety and depression are prevalent in people living with MS.  Studies show women have a higher incidence of anxiety and men are typically more depressed.  Women often seek psychosocial support whereas men neither express nor obtain help for their mental health needs.

How men with MS obtain support in times of need and the development of support services for them has received little attention.  Instead, the focus has primarily been on social support groups. Although these groups can reduce depression, there is insufficient data that says they improve quality of life because the group interventions may not meet the needs of individual participants.  The characteristics of those who attend support groups and reasons for non attendance are poorly understood.  Only a couple of studies have addressed these issues directly and the studies focused predominantly on women, mostly married, and middle aged or older adults.  The reality is that women attend more groups than men.  We cannot make assumptions that what works for women will automatically work for men.  Instead, we need evidence based research to support conclusions. For example, legitimate support services for men should include evidence based qualitative and quantitative surveys/questionnaires designed to learn what men really want. 

At this time, men are an underserved population with regard to designer social support programs tailored to their specific desires. Their voices are quiet.  We can help them roar if given the opportunity.