Is Being “A Man” Making You Sick?

We have just come out of Men’s Health Week 2021 here in Australia; June 14- 20 and it’s over again for another year. Before this topic fades from our memories, it’s important we take a look at one of the biggest health problems facing men these days, “being a man”.

In many cases, boys learn to display an air of stoicism, to repress feelings and emotions and to “act like a man”, to always keep their guard up, without vulnerability. Of course, there have been some improvements in the way we look at how boys and men express their emotions, an apparent acceptance of this behaviour, but there are still sneers from the back row, silent judgements and engrained societal norms made with detriment to social status, career progression and even relationship suitability. This can also lead to a number of health issues, both mental and physical.

We’ve all heard the toxic comments throwing down society’s perceived expectations of males, “Man up”, “real men don’t cry” or “you run like a girl” and of course “Where have all the real men gone”? These remarks can lead young men to believe that being their authentic selves is somehow wrong and that by feeling vulnerable or less than heroic, they have failed at being their own gender. This sense of being less than what is expected can sometimes lead to an identity crisis, depression and/or anxiety, a disregard for our health and even worse.

It’s not that parents are failing their sons, in fact the opposite is true in most cases. Most parents these days do an amazing job of teaching children to be open with their feelings, to be in touch with their vulnerability, but entrenched societal gender norms are being a little more stubborn.

You only have to turn on the television, radio or any other media source to see it in all its glory. Advertising is one place where gender norms are clearly laid out. Apparently, men like drinking, eating steaks, gambling, fishing, and hardware, three of which are responsible for some of the biggest lifestyle related problems in society today. In an era where young people have never been so heavily targeted by marketing, perhaps we all just need to understand that many advertisements are a massive generalisation and misrepresentation of all genders and are only to be seen as a means of parting you from your money. The amplification and exaggeration of these so-called masculine traits can also lead to toxic masculinity which perpetuates domination, homophobia, aggression, and misogyny as “manliness”.

Although there is still a way to go, I believe society has become much more accepting of men’s vulnerability and that more and more people are free to be themselves these days. So why is this still such a big problem? Perhaps it is more about how men see themselves than how others see them. One common problem area for men is the assumption that they should be “bullet proof” which often leads to ignoring symptoms of illness or an unwillingness to seek help.

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
—Brene Brown—

An Australian male’s life expectancy is, on average, around four years less than that of the opposite sex. He is four times more likely to commit suicide and accounts for 62% of preventable deaths. In many cases men can be their own worst enemy. They are more likely to end up at the emergency department than the GP’s office, and when most men do go to see the GP (usually at the later stages of an illness) they are less likely to open up and somehow believe that doctors can read minds or make a diagnosis just by what they see. Many guys see going to the GP to be an inconvenience or a waste of time.

A/Prof Craig Allingham for Independence Australia offers an interesting strategy that may be helpful for some men to consider when it comes to seeking medical help.
Full article link:

**Men will get better value and results from their doctor using a project management mind-set towards their own health. **

The first part is to provide all the information needed in a timely manner to the practitioner. Here are some tips to maximise GP value for men’s health.
• Know your family medical history, especially your father’s. There are genetic predisposing risk factors for conditions such as prostate cancer, coronary disease, dementia, and depression. Share this history with your GP.
• Find a GP who is a good fit for you: convenient, accessible, generous with time and skills. One interested in you as a person not just a patient. Give them the time to let this happen.
• See your doctor when you are well. Let your GP see what a healthy you looks like inside and out. Baseline measures of weight, height, BP, blood tests, vision and more will be useful when later assessing changes. Share your fears and goals regarding a healthy life.
• Monitor your risk factors with regular visits to check for any changes, e.g. blood pressure, blood markers, sleep habits and stress indicators as determined by your risk profile.
• Turn up. Ask questions. Listen.
• Prepare for GP visits with a self-check to ensure you raise all concerns (minor and urgent). Take control and seek advice for ongoing health, not just remedies.
• Follow the advice given. Act early on referrals for tests or treatment, persist with lifestyle changes for several months even if they are difficult or uncomfortable. Give the advice a chance to work.

A long-term relationship with your GP and other health care practitioners based on health rather than illness is a great investment in your quality and quantity of life.

The most important thing common to all genders which is often forgotten by society is humanity. Recognition that we all have emotions and need support. We need to allow freedom to all genders by dissolving societal expectations and work towards redefining masculinity. Toxic masculinity creates an inhospitable environment for both men and women. Embrace the differences that are present in men and encourage diversification of society’s perception of them.

“If I ever have a son, I want to be able to tell him that, no matter what differences he shares with others, society will accept his gender as part of him, without ascribing a toxic element to his understanding of his own character.”
— Sárán Fogarty—

Guys, also check out these videos released by ABC about Men Opening Up.

*Rated M (contains coarse language)

This has been provided as information only and in no way substitutes professional medical or nutritional advice.