Strategy & personal development

Man-up has had its day

When it is Men’s Health Week, many topics of conversation are opened up and we reflect on how we might change our narrative to encourage a change. But once a year for a week isn’t enough. Throughout this article I will refer to some of the startling statistics around men’s health and with that I must issue a trigger warning that there will be references to male suicide.

Man up

The historical depiction of masculine strength has been to ‘man-up’ hold it all in, shut it all out, carry it all for everyone, never show emotions (other than anger, which was deemed acceptable for a male to express, not a female though or she would be called hysterical, but let’s keep the historical representation of females for another day).

The Oxford dictionary definition of man-up is this: Be brave or tough enough to deal with a difficult or unpleasant situation.

If you’re a man, you will no doubt, have had this phrase thrown at you in response to a situation where, heaven forbid you may have wanted to express emotion. You may even have had this since childhood as, sadly many young boys were (perhaps even some still are today) told ‘boys don’t cry’ or ‘don’t be a girl’.

We could ask ourselves how we, as a society have come to ever think less of a gender because they have feelings? Unfortunately, we have! For decades, centuries even, men have been told to ‘be strong’ and ‘man up’. The historical depiction of emotions has proved detrimental for both genders, women deemed hysterical and men deemed weak should they express emotions but humans have emotions and express them we must for if we don’t our health suffers. So just what damage have we been doing with this small two-word phrase?

Well, let’s take a look at where we are with men’s health. Here are some statistics from the UK.

  • Men go to the doctors less than women
  • On average, men die 3.7 years earlier than women
  • In the UK today 1 man out of 5 dies before the age of 65

Before I carry on, I must insert here again, a trigger warning. The rest of this article will discuss male suicide.

  • Men are three times more likely to die from suicide than women
  • Suicide is the biggest cause of death for men, but not just young men – there are almost as many deaths from suicide amongst men over the age of 50 as there are for men under 45
  • 75% of deaths from suicide – with suicide the biggest cause of male death under 50
  • Men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women.
  • Men are nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent (8.7% of men are alcohol dependent compared to 3.3% of women
  • 73% of adults who ‘go missing’ are men 
  • 87% of rough sleepers are men
  • Men are three times as likely to report frequent drug use than women (4.2% and 1.4% respectively) and more than two thirds of drug-related deaths occur in men 
  • Men make up 95% of the prison population
  • 72% of male prisoners suffer from two or more mental disorders
  • Men are nearly 50% more likely than women to be detained and treated compulsorily as psychiatric inpatients 
  • Men commit 86% of violent crime (and are twice as likely to be victims of violent crime) 

Now for the boys

  • Boys are around three times more likely to receive a permanent or fixed period exclusion than girls
  • Boys are performing less well than girls at all levels of education

Stats from the Men’s Health Forum

The disparities in male and female health of course, do not all point to the phrase ‘man-up’ but the feeling of being unable to suppress any emotion other than anger will have consequences.

According to Psychology Today – anger frequency and intensity does not differ between the sexes. We all get angry but there are differences with the expression of anger.

  • Men are more likely to express anger outwardly than women
  • Women suffer greater consequences than men when they express their anger outwardly

Anger needs to come out in one way or another or it builds up and releases itself, sometimes leaving you feeling out of control.

If you are stressed, emotional, carrying a burden but feel contained of course something is going to happen, an angry outburst, a violent act, something out of character or something that fits a pattern, either way humans are not designed to contain emotions and it is dangerous when we do.

Physical health

It’s not just mental health matters that can prevent men from talking. Some physical health symptoms can be deemed embarrassing or ‘not for discussing’. There’s no subject too embarrassing for any doctor in the world. Having a check-up can spot early warning signs of something potentially serious and save lives.

Men are more likely to die from the following conditions

  • 76% of premature deaths from heart disease
  • 43% more likely to die from cancer
  • 26% more likely to have type 2 diabetes and 68.5% of diabetic amputations

Statistics from the report: Levelling Up Men’s Health: the case for a men’s health strategy

  • 75% of deaths from suicide – with suicide the biggest cause of male death under 50
  • 76% of premature deaths from heart disease
  • 43% more likely to die from cancer
  • 63% of premature deaths from COVID-19
  • 26% more likely to have type 2 diabetes and 68.5% of diabetic amputations
  • 66% of alcohol-related deaths

In September 2021, the ONS (Office National Statistics) reported the first decline in male life expectancy since the 1980s.

Let’s read that again – the first decline in male life expectancy since the 1980s.

If we consider all of this and then think that men feel ‘weak’ for talking about health concerns we can see how ‘man-up’ is a problem. Visiting a GP could detect conditions which can save lives. No doctor is embarrassed by health concerns.

Thankfully there are now the beginnings of a change. Giving men the ability to freely express emotions, to stop saying the phrase man-up, to allow small boys to cry so they don’t grow up feeling that they can’t. This then enabling a generation of men to understand their emotions and be able to share them.

Talking takes strength.

There is always someone there.

Need to talk?

Samaritans 116 123

There for you 24/7

Support your workforce

There are lots of resources out there – take a look at the Men’s Health Forum for posters, leaflets and lots of helpful information. You don’t have to be the answer but it’s good to know where to start.

More conversation?

I discussed men’s health with Elliot Rae, the founder of on my podcast – he is striving the get more support for the role of fathers in the workplace following the birth of a child.

Originally posted 2022-07-06 15:59:01.

Louise Mercieca
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Louise Mercieca

Louise is an award-winning Nutritional Therapist, award-winning author and presenter on her own Food Channel for Early Years Nutrition. Whilst she is passionate about formative nutrition, she mainly works with adults on preventative nutrition. How can we use food instead of eventually needing medicine!? There are lots of confusing, contradictory and often, misplaced advice in the world of nutrition. Louise aims to make the message clear - food and health are intrinsically linked!

Man-up has had its day

by Louise Mercieca Time to read: 4 min