Dan Craig

Jan 3, 2021

4 min read

Man up? Man down.

Next time the phrase ‘man up’ comes to mind, stop and reflect. Before there’s another man down as a result. (Image: General & Medical).

November has been and gone. And for the most part, this spells the end to all the great conversations on men’s health and wellbeing that have taken place. The dashing moustaches are trimmed, and the cinema adverts for testicle checking are gone. As the unofficial, but widely endorsed, ‘men’s health month’ drew to a close, it left me with a strong sense of conflicting emotions.

On the one hand. Having the conversations and sharing knowledge on mens plight when it comes to various health-related issues is a great thing. On the other, is it really that useful when those conversations stop by the time it comes to the new year?

During November, I was asked to lead 9 men’s health workshops, and contribute to 12 others, each to different organisations. Which is likely more than all the other 11 months, combined.

Call me out if I’m off the mark, here. But this increasingly excessive ‘international day for (insert vague health-related topic here)’ approach isn’t always helpful. The conversations are good, but it often seems to fuel an insidious transitoriness and herd reactivity. Trendiness, even. This kind of come-and-go, swings-and-roundabouts type of attitude.

To use an example. Most people have heard of ‘Movember’. However, when asked about what the prostate gland is, and what it does; the vast majority would still say they’re not sure.

Perhaps, though, these sometimes have their uses. Over just the last few years, we’ve seen several areas of wellbeing break from their own moulds and become more commonplace.

Mental health, in general, is something many are happy to talk about more openly, all year round. Women’s health issues are now often in the spotlight, especially in the workplace. And, as such, businesses and their people aren’t just more aware of the issues, but are able to actually *do* more stuff to help, such as implementing workplace menopause policies, for example.

It is high-time we kept the conversation rolling on men’s health, rather than simply allow it to come back around in 11 months time, when we again take our seats on the bandwagon of raising awareness.

To this end, let’s re-visit a couple of key hitters.

Men have a four year lifespan deficit to women, are much more likely to end their own lives (approximately 3 in 4 suicides are in men), are much more likely to become alcohol reliant, much more likely to be overweight or obese — whilst at the same time, are much less likely to either visit their GP or reach out to utilise resources and support services (even if they’re free).

And then there’s, you know. Stigma, and stuff. Which probably wasn’t always there. Perhaps it’s (still) here because it’s uncomfortable exposing ourselves to something we’ve clearly missed the mark on in the past.

‘Man up.’

‘Be a man.’

‘Stop acting like a girl.’

‘Boys don’t cry.’

‘Snowflake.’

Not only do these sorts of machismo-delusional phrases imply that men cannot or should not feel pain or express emotion, but also suggest that women are therefore weak, fragile and hyper-sensitive. For me, these fuel a state of toxic humanity, not toxic masculinity.

Long-held societal beliefs of what it means to be masculine or ‘manly’ has led to a widespread apprehension to communicate, which has led to men partaking (or, relying?) on unfavourable health attitudes and behaviours, which has led to many problems for men including both the terrible health outcomes but also an unwillingness to seek support when it may be needed.

It’s one big clusterf**k of a problem.

Things are beginning to change, though. Genuine positive steps are now being taken, public attitudes are shifting.

When I’m discussing health and wellbeing with men, I’m relieved to see that the inherent discomfort and embarrassment in talking about personal, sensitive issues is finally beginning to subside. But, we’re still a long way off re-balancing the scales and seeing the ‘gender health gap’ narrowed.

It doesn’t always take a handful of radical thinkers to light a fire and get people onboard with something. Sometimes, just having enough people behind a cause can get it over the line.

The more we can continue not just ‘raising awareness’, but educating ourselves on where these issues have originated, the better a chance we’ve got of seeing change.

Let’s collectively take some time to consider how we can do a better job of this for all the husbands, boyfriends, brothers, sons, mates, colleagues out there. How can we be better role models and help shape the world-views of our children and younger people who are, right now, soaking this all up as they grow and develop?

November may have been and gone, but keep this momentum going. No pun intended…

Lay on / attend men’s health workshops all year round. Keep the moustache. Learn what the prostate gland is, what it does, and what the signs of prostate cancer are. Ask yourself, or any of the men close to you, ‘how are you today?’. Reach out and offer a helping hand if you know a man who is in crisis. Anything, just keep it going.

And, the next time the phrase ‘man up’ comes to mind, stop and reflect — before there’s another man down as a result.