Poor body image, eating disorders, “bigorexia” and suicide. It’s time to talk about men’s suffering – and we’re not talking about man flu. Here’s why saying “man up” is harmful;
Suicide is the biggest killer of men aged 15-34. In the UK 75% of suicide victims are men.
One in 10 men who train in gyms could be suffering from “bigorexia” AKA muscle dysphoria.
This is an anxiety disorder, where despite being large and muscular, men feel small and weak.
It can lead to steroid abuse, mental health problems and even suicide.
Bigorexia is often described as the opposite of Anorexia. This is an eating disorder characterized by a desire to be thin and a fear of gaining weight.
The facts above suggest these are real, tangible problems. Yet when issues like eating disorders or mental health are covered, it’s often (though not always) with a focus on women. Why?
Research suggests that men are less likely to recognise health symptoms themselves. They’re also less likely to come forward for a check-up. The same is true for mental health disorders, where men are less likely to report symptoms than women.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that when exploring these issues we focus on women rather than men. After all, the numbers suggest that women may be more at risk. Eating disorders are 10 times more common in women than men. Women are 40% more likely to develop a mental illness than men.
Yet this isn’t providing the full story. Matt Haig notes that whilst UK women may be more likely to suffer from depression, more men commit suicide. “As suicide is usually a symptom of depression, this suggests men are not getting the help they need.”
Dig deeper and you realise this all comes down to those pesky “traditional” gender roles that men and women are supposed to adhere to.
Psychologist Will Meek defines gender roles as “a set of attitudes, behaviours, and self-presentation methods ascribed to members of a certain biological sex”
(FYI the World health Organisation (WHO) defines “Sex” as “biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women”
and “Gender” as “the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.”)
So when describing Western traditional gender roles for men, think: don’t cry, stay tough, and work hard. Man up, essentially.
Working with men-only therapy groups Dr. Martin Seager identified the “three rules of masculinity”. Be a fighter and a winner, be a provider and a protector, retain mastery and control.
“If you break any of those, you don’t feel like a man.
So if you don’t have a job, for a woman that’s awful, but if [a] man doesn’t have a job he doesn’t feel he can provide or protect – so he’s lost his masculinity. That’s why the suicide rate for the unemployed is greater for men.”
Seager believes that “this isn’t genetic: we are biologically evolved as male.” Put simply; our image of a “male” is influenced by society.
Now, it could be argued that our society is slowly becoming more accepting of different ideas of masculinity. Yet the pressure of fitting within the “traditional” gender roles is such that some men find it hard to come forward when perceiving symptoms to be “un-manly”.
For example, a study of 135 men with eating disorders found that several bulimia victims were ashamed of suffering from a disorder typically associated with females.
It’s important to remember that women also face longstanding destructive cultural practices. The phrase “man up” pressurises men, emphasising that they should aspire to be masculine.
Yet it also belittles women by portraying “feminine” behaviour as inferior.
So, whilst it’s OK to question whether “man up” is “the most destructive phrase in modern culture” we should probably focus on calling out negative stereotypes which affect both men and women.
Talk about it! Raising awareness will help us get past gender stereotypes and allow men AND women to come forward and get the help they need.
There are lots of resources and helplines if you, or someone you know, are experiencing mental or physical problems.
READ: The Men’s Health Forum provides information and raises awareness on issues surrounding men.
SPEAK: Mental health charities like Mind run helplines so you can get help even if you don’t want to speak to someone you know.
Samaritans run a free 24-hour helpline; you don’t have to give any personal details if you don’t want to. If something is troubling you, then get in touch.
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