The Psychological Impact of Gynecomastia
Studies and psychological inquiries are consistently evaluating the societal and personal perception of people with abnormal growth conditions caused by altered levels of different hormones in the body. Currently, about two-thirds of the world’s male population suffers from gynecomastia, a non-cancerous enlargement of glandular breast in men, with an estimate of about 10% of these cases remaining permanent. Gynecomastia alters the normal body architecture in men causing a female-like appearance of the male chest. This prominent physical manifestation impacts negatively on the quality of life and mental health of males who suffer from gynecomastia.
The effects of gynecomastia on any affected individual are far-reaching, ranging from a lack of self-esteem to being the subject of ridicule by classmates or peers.
The following are evidence-based research supported effects that gynecomastia can cause, leading to negative impacts on a males psyche.
Gynecomastia Can Cause Anxiety
The first emotional response to the development of glandular tissue in men is a feeling of anxiety. Patients are likely to have feelings of uncertainty over the ultimate outcome of diagnosis and any possible treatment plan. Studies report that affected males are likely to make medical inquiries as to the possibility of gynecomastia leading to male breast cancer. A survey published by Breast Care reported that patients are most likely to experience significant episodes of apprehension secondary to anxiety if they present with other medical conditions, possess personal traits of anxiety, and/or have a high education background. Generally, the disturbing mental image created by this condition and a lingering fear of the unknown are the primary cause of anxiety.
Gynecomastia Can Cause Low Self-Esteem
Men with gynecomastia are likely to have a recurring feeling of incompleteness due to body form dissatisfaction and social phobia. These patients are also likely to mentally imagine a society that attaches abnormality and stigma to the condition. A study published by the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery revealed that compared to the normal population, psychological metrics that measure social phobia and low self-esteem were significantly higher in men with gynecomastia. Patients especially reported feelings of shame to expose the body, especially in social gatherings with people they are not related with. Several publications have recommended psychotherapy sessions with a clinical psychologist as an adjunct therapy for the management of the condition with an extension to post-operative patients.
Confused Sexual Identity
In addition to depression and anxiety, confused sexual identity is another early emotional presentation in men suffering from gynecomastia. This feeling is connected to the fact that the development of glandular glands is considered an exclusive trait of the female population. This psychological problem is also common in men diagnosed with male breast cancer. In 2007, a blind survey conducted by Cancer Nursing reported that about 43% of men stated that they would question their masculinity if they develop gynecomastia or male breast cancer. A section of the participants thinks gynecomastia is in part due to nature’s unfairness to the male gender. In some regions of Africa, gynecomastia is considered a curse from the gods to mothers who would rather prefer a girl at birth. Confused sexual identity is popularly referred to as spoiled identity in some gynecomastia-focused surveys.
In relative comparison, depression is probably the most severe of all psychological issues associated with gynecomastia. The cumulative effect of disturbed sexual identity, unresolved anxiety, and a poor body image is a serious bout of depression with the possibility of suicidal tendencies in severe cases or poorly managed cases. Generally, studies have concluded that it is easier to manage depression in women with breast cancer compared to men with gynecomastia. Women easily reach out to relatives and friends, and they show commendable receptiveness to psychotherapy sessions by not feeling uneasy to discuss their condition. Men with gynecomastia, however, prefer to conceal their condition and are likely to feel uneasy during psychotherapy sessions. This is the main cause of depression, as the men also feel ashamed and vulnerable. A review published by Oncology Nursing Forum identified an increase in blood pressure, obesity, restlessness, and fatigue as common health complications of prolonged depression in men with gynecomastia.
Gynecomastia patients, in the long run, feel a sense of loneliness arising from perceived discrimination and marginalization within the societal hierarchy structure. This heavy psychological burden is described as a feeling of humiliation, embarrassment, rejection, withdrawal from social functions, and loneliness. Regardless of the severity of this condition, some patients generally revert into noticeable reclusion with adult patients describing their case of social isolation as being in a World of Isolation.
Young patients, whose case of gynecomastia developed at the prime of puberty, are likely to withdraw from family and friends in an effort to conceal the abnormal breast growth perceived to make them less of a man and avoid possible teasing from peers. This episode of silenced suffering can ultimately generate a recurring pattern of perceived vulnerability, a feeling of unwholesomeness, and a feeling of distrust. Researchers have verified that social isolation is more pronounced in young adults diagnosed with gynecomastia compared to fully grown adults who are better emotionally secured and may have accepted their natural presentation of altered masculinity.
Disordered eating in men is termed Manorexia. The incidence of this psychological condition has significantly increased over the last decade. Gynecomastia patients have a very high tendency to become manorexic. With the level of emotional deprivation and social isolation experienced, some patients are likely to consider weight reduction as a possible solution to reducing breast fat or glandular gland growth reduction. These patients create an imaginary image of a perfect body and assume control of their dieting, shunning meals, and becoming manorexic in the process. To manage disordered eating in gynecomastia patients, a series of properly designed psychotherapy sessions are required.
In conclusion, the psychological impact of having gynecomastia can be severe and can even lead to suicidal thoughts in extreme cases. Psychotherapy and/or surgical intervention for gynecomastia should be considered as part of a treatment plan for the condition.
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Gynecomastia and psychological functioning: A review of the literature