Male Body Image and Mental Health
Stephen McCulley looks at the link between male body image and mental health, and why it’s important for men to share their feelings.
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According to the Movember Foundation, we lose on average one man to suicide every minute of every day worldwide, while a shocking one in eight UK men suffer from a diagnosed mental health condition. Men are just not seeking help for their mental health concerns and something culturally needs to change.
What is becoming more prevalent in this debate about mental health is the way men view their bodies, and what implications this has on the pre-existing attitudes towards mental health. So is the changing view towards male body image a liberating or debilitating thing?
John Robertson from The Everyday Man says that while it may be becoming more acceptable for men to embrace body image and style, mental health still suffers: “I think men are becoming a lot more comfortable with their bodies in terms of the physical sense. They are no longer afraid to try treatments, experiment with fashions and talk about body issues with their peers and others. As far as mental health goes I think most men are still pretty closed. Perhaps it stems from being afraid to show a weakness, so they may be more inclined to hide away from any issues than speak openly about it.”
It certainly seems as though men are becoming more open about their bodies and the way they view themselves. About 15-20% of the cosmetic surgery procedures I perform are on males and this has increased in last 10 years. The most common procedures for males are gynaecomastia, blepharoplasty, liposuction and rhinoplasty.
It seems that this shift in mental health and body image stems from the changing perceptions of masculinity and femininity. A man engaged in anything deemed slightly feminine, such as seeking help for mental health or showing emotion is considered shameful, and because of this pressure the male suicide rate in Britain is three times that of the female suicide rate. With these terrifying figures present and the accepted view that men are taught to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ with their problems, it’s easy to see that a change needs to happen.
Contributor Jonathan Prince from the charity The Blue Ribbon Foundation takes us through his thoughts on male mental health and body image, and gives some valuable advice for men and boys struggling with their body image and mental health.
We men are in a pickle! I say this as a slightly older man brought up when ‘men were men’ and ‘women were women’ in a very traditional sense. While women have had (and continue to have) immense social pressure on them in terms of appearance and health, the focus has only relatively recently been widened to men as well.
Men are increasingly expected to be neatly groomed but not effeminate, take care of their physical health while still being able to drink a pint with their friends, have washboard stomachs but not be too body-obsessed, wear their heart on their sleeve while not being a ‘cry-baby’, and so on. This is demonstrated by the growing mass of products marketed to men around grooming, moisturising, and nutrition. All of these can be positive to an extent, but can equally contribute to growing pressure to act and live in a certain way – and if you don’t, the implication is that you are deficient as a man.
This is not to argue that we should accept an image of men as unkempt, unemotional cavemen, nor that this compares to the ongoing challenges faced by women in our society. But it’s worth highlighting that there are greater and more divergent expectations on men in our modern society than before. What chance do modern men have?
These expectations can cause many men to feel pressured, and be damaging to male self-esteem and body image. Unfortunately, from some men, this ‘background noise’ of expectations and commercial images can contribute to other issues they may be facing in their lives, resulting in stress, anxiety or even more long-term mental health issues. Part of the problem remains that although men talk to one another about many things, their health or how they feel still seems to be beyond most of us. Many men with mental health problems therefore will suffer in silence.
Worse yet, for some men, not talking about their issues can contribute to dire consequences. In the UK suicide remains the most common cause of death in men under the age of 35. British men are three times as likely as British women to die by suicide. This is scary – while women are more likely to be affected by some conditions than men, such as anxiety, men appear to be more prone to not seek help before things get worse. Why don’t we talk to one another, why can’t we seem to go to the experts like women do – are we scared, distracted or something else?
10 small changes
While men who are suffering from severe or enduring mental health problems should seek help from qualified mental health professionals, there are simple changes we can make that have a huge impact on their mental health and wellbeing. Mental health is about the way you think and feel and your ability to deal with ups and downs. Making simple changes to how you live doesn’t need to cost a fortune or take up loads of time. Here are 10 practical ways to take care of yourself and get the most from life:
1. Talk About Your Feelings
Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled. This is part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy.
2. Eat Well
There are strong links between what we eat and how we feel – for example, caffeine and sugar can have an immediate effect on our mood. But eating a balanced and healthy diet can also have a long-lasting positive effect on your physical and mental health.
3. Keep In Touch
Friends and family can make you feel included and cared for. They can offer different views from whatever’s going on inside your own head. They can help keep you active, grounded and help you solve practical problems.
4. Take A Break
A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. It could be a five-minute pause from cleaning your kitchen, an hour lunch break at work or a weekend exploring somewhere new. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you.
5. Accept Who You Are
Some of us make people laugh, some are good at maths, while others cook fantastic meals. Some of us share our lifestyle with the people who live close to us, others live very differently. We’re all different but the difference is what makes us unique. Don’t let anyone make you feel your uniqueness is a bad thing.
6. Keep Active
Experts believe exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good mentally, as well as physically. Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep, look and feel better. Exercise also keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy. Set your own pace. Keeping active is good, but don’t cause yourself more stress by pressuring yourself to go too far, too fast!
7. Drink Sensibly
We often drink alcohol to change our mood. Some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only temporary. We all know by now the health risks with alcohol, so if you do drink, do so in moderation.
8. Ask For Help
None of us are superhuman. We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel or when things go wrong. If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help – friends, family and medical professionals will be able to provide support.
9. Do Something You’re Good At
What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? What did you love doing in the past? Enjoying yourself helps beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it and achieving something boosts your self-esteem.
10. Care For Others
Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together.
While the expectations of modern life can weigh heavier on men than perhaps in the past, these tips can help you slough off unnecessary pressure, and live a healthy life of your choice.
More information and tips from the Blue Ribbon Foundation about men’s health can be found on the website and the Blue Ribbon Twitter feed @BlueRibbonFoundation.
You can also find further information and support at the Movember Foundation.