What’s the state of men’s health in the UK?
There’s a jarring health inequality between the sexes, in the UK as well as in countries such as the US.
The average life expectancy for a UK baby boy born in 2008-10 was around 4 years less than that of girls. Premature death mainly affects men, with 42% of men dying prematurely (before the age of 75) from all causes compared to 26% of women.
Men’s health outcomes are statistically worse, almost across the board. This includes higher rates of obesity, rates of mental ill health, and higher rates of non-sex-specific cancers (men are 70% more likely to die from a cancer that ‘should’ affect the sexes equally).
If you zoom out from health metrics alone, it’s clear that there are a wide variety of societal issues disproportionately affecting men:
- Significantly lower life satisfaction compared to women.
- 87% of rough sleepers are men.
- Men make up 95% of the prison population. 72% of male prisoners suffer from two or more mental disorders.
- Almost three in ten adult men (28%) aged 18 and above have felt anxious because of body image issues according to the survey findings.
- Just over three out of four suicides (76%) are by men and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35.
- Males are nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent (8.7% of men compared to 3.3% of women).
- Men are three times as likely to report frequent drug use than women (4.2% and 1.4% respectively).
Worrying trends for men’s health and wellbeing
A large proportion of men seek help less often and cope less well than they might.
Men visit the GP 20% less than women in their lifetime, a difference that cannot be accounted for by increased female need for services around pregnancy. Younger men in particular visit the GP half as often as women of the same age.
They may also rely on unsustainable self-management strategies that damage not only themselves, but those around them. Alcohol and drug dependency rates for men are considerably higher than those of women.
Why don’t men talk about their health?
It’s no myth that men visit the GP less, as we saw above, but the reasons for this are complex and can make men harder to access for health service providers.
One of the root causes is that men and women display very different attitudes to health and illness, with health often perceived as a feminine concern. Men may feel that they must pretend to be unconcerned about their health to be ‘male’. Fear and social embarrassment appear to be the main drivers behind male reluctance to seek help and follow medical advice.
Risk-taking behaviour is also associated with masculinity. A King’s Fund study that looked at four behaviours – smoking, drinking, diet and exercise – found that men were more likely to participate in a combination of three or four risky behaviours. These behaviours lead to lower health outcomes.
For mental health, a study by The Priory Group found the following reasons men didn’t talk about their mental health:
- ‘I’ve learnt to deal with it’ (40%)
- ‘Don’t wish to be a burden to anyone’ (36%)
- ‘I’m too embarrassed’ (29%)
- ‘There’s negative stigma around this type of thing’ (20%)
- ‘I don’t want to admit I need support’ (17%)
- ‘Don’t want to appear weak’ (16%)
- ‘I have no one to talk to’ (14%)
Self-esteem: the hidden driver behind mental health struggles?
Mental ill health affects 12.5% of men in the UK – could self-esteem issues be behind many of these struggles?
“One way self-esteem can be impacted is via the perfectionist mindset, where someone sets themselves highly unrealistic standards and is unable to meet them. This impacts the individual’s confidence and trust in themselves,” says Rory Brown, one of Elevate’s behaviour change experts and registered nutrition coach
“As a result, their internal narrative becomes critical, creating a stressed and threatening environment. This then places more focus on external feedback in order to feel safe. This could include appearance, strength, or unhealthy levels of participation in particular activities.
The individual will then filter information to support this external feedback, influenced by the expectations of society, for example, the messaging around ‘ideal’ male body appearance.
This creates a vicious cycle of worsening self-esteem and more reliance on external validation.”
Rory worries that issues such as body dysmorphia – for which the 2% official diagnosis rate only skims the surface of the problem – is a silent threat to men’s mental wellbeing. The ‘red flags’ for body image concerns are actually normalised behaviours in gyms, social media, TV, magazine covers and movies – extreme dieting, recreational use of steroids, and extreme exercise amongst them.
“We live in a society where thin means successful for women, and muscular means successful for men. We learn from interactions in life that how we look is where we get approval, acceptance and compliments. This obviously feeds into the problem.”
How to help break down stigmas about male health
Rory, suggests men “connect with the self again, through relaxation, becoming aware of thoughts, feelings and behaviour patterns, and practicing self-compassion. This enables us to set ourselves more realistic outcomes, become kinder to ourselves and start to focus back on our own lives and what we want.”
Rory also notes how important it is for health issues to be raised with men in a way that resonates and helps them to open up.
“The annual suicide statistics demonstrate how hard men find it to come forward and share their vulnerabilities. It is so important to spread awareness of male health issues and create platforms where men can come and talk without feeling weird or like something is ‘wrong’ with them.”
Men’s health week: 14-21st June 2021
This year, Men’s Health Week will focus on mental health and COVID-19.
Throughout June, Elevate is running workshops focused on male wellbeing. Get in touch today to find out more – firstname.lastname@example.org 📩
If you’re worried about someone’s mental health
If you’re concerned about someone, take a look at Mind’s resources: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helping-someone-else/