The term ‘man-flu’ was coined to describe men who are felled by the common cold, and experience (and complain about) worse symptoms than their women-folk - who power on through going about their daily tasks.
But the thing is, it turns out men ARE actually sicker than women, after all.
Is man-flu real?
In short, yes. It seems the male of the species are not actually wimps – they’re just immunologically inferior. Scientists have worked out that testosterone dampens immune system responses to influenza, while oestrogen apparently boosts them.
It could also explain why men fared worse in the pandemic – with an almost 18% difference in the total number of Covid-19-related deaths for men (63,000) and women (53,000) between March 2020 and January 2021.
Are men sicker than women?
Fortunately, it’s not a competition. But the fact is that in general across the globe, men do die on average 5 years earlier than women – and for largely preventable causes.
Three of the biggest health crises facing men are the focus of the annual Movember campaign – prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health.
According to their website, around 10.8 million men around the world are facing life with a prostate cancer diagnosis. Globally, testicular cancer is the most common cancer amongst young men. And one man dies by suicide every minute of every day – with males accounting for 69% of all suicides.
Part of the problem is that men are more reluctant than women to seek medical or psychological support – and that reticence is killing them.
Why don’t men go to the Doctor?
A study by Gillete for one Movember campaign found that up to three quarters of men admitted putting off going to the doctors when showing signs of illness.
When probing (so to speak) further, elder-care support site Whentheygetolder found that 29% of men said they were too busy to go, 28% worried about burdening the NHS, 26% couldn’t fit it in around work, 23% felt embarrassed, and 22% were worried about catching germs and hospitals just making them sicker.
For others, it seems to be about not wanting to be told something bad, or ‘probe-o-phobia’ - fear of the infamous finger-test for prostate cancer, with three quarters of Doctors saying that embarrassment makes men bad at talking about or dealing with health issues.
Who isn’t going to the Doctor?
Well one of the men who admits to putting off making a GP appointment is Equipsme’s own Managing Director Matthew Reed.
He says: “It’s really, really easy to just get busy, get distracted, and convince yourself everything is fine anyway. For lots of unfortunate and ridiculous reasons that are deeply engrained in our culture, being vulnerable can be very, very hard for men - and there’s nowhere you’re more vulnerable than in a consulting room.
“Primary care is at the core of our Equipsme plans – and we’ve made it easy to break down some of the barriers that stop people taking that first crucial step. You can phone to book an appointment 24/7 – to help find a time that actually works for you. And you can begin on the phone rather than face-to-face, too. That’s exactly what I did when I had to get a health issue checked out recently - and I got loads of reassurance and accessed the treatment I needed quickly and easily.
“If you’re interested enough in your body to go to the gym, please take it the Doctor. Prevention really is better than the cure, and catching something like testicular cancer early can make a vast difference to your treatment options, and outcomes.”
Why don’t men talk about their feelings?
Men don’t talk about their feelings for a lot of the same reasons they don’t go to the Doctor. Society’s expectations and traditional gender stereotypes can mean men feel like they have to be breadwinners and be in control and in charge.
1 in 8 men are thought to have a common mental health problem like anxiety or depression, but they are less likely than women to access therapies, and nearly three times more likely to turn to harmful coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol. They are also more likely to be homeless, and more likely to die by suicide. In 2021, 4,129 men took their own lives in the UK.
Why are men struggling right now?
For lots of reasons – but many still associated with the pandemic and its aftermath.
Matthew comments: “So many people have struggled over the last few years, particularly with the isolation of lockdowns. And without being able to meet up with friends’ face-to-face men were left feeling cut off from their support systems. It’s why we made sure Equispme members who have Stress Support added by their employer could talk to someone virtually 24/7 - and why we increased the number of face-to-face counselling sessions available from 5 to 8 in 2020.
“Now with families facing serious financial issues this Winter, men are feeling even more pressure – to be strong. That’s a lot to take on.
“As an ex-service person I know all about groups of big tough blokes. We don’t talk often enough about what’s going on in our lives, let alone what’s going on in our heads. It’s not a weakness not to feel strong all the time – in fact it’s a strength to be able to admit it and talk about it. Since the pandemic, I’ve tried to do that with my male friends. When I ask, ‘How are you?’ I really mean it - and I really want to know.”
What can we do to help men with their health?
Whether or not men are actually sicker than women, it’s clear men’s health needs some serious attention.
Here’s how to make a start.
1. Check in with yourself
Follow Matthew’s advice and ask - How ARE you? – but ask yourself first.
Are you suffering from low mood? Are you struggling with dark thoughts? Is there an ailment or injury you’ve been ignoring? Is it worrying you? Being honest with yourself is the first step towards action - and resolution.
2. Check yourself
Make checking your testicles part of your routine – in the shower, when you have a shave, whatever works for you. Understanding what’s normal for you and what to look out for is key – and checking out Movember’s Know thy Nuts page is a great place to start.
3. Check in with others
Those three little words ‘How ARE you?’ can make a huge difference – now use them on a man you know. And listen carefully to the answer.
You don’t need to be a Doctor or a counsellor – you just need to hear someone out. And you don’t need to do it in person, either – a text can be a great opener to a new sort of conversation.
“Hi. I’ve not heard from you in a while. How are you?”
Make talking about bodies and feelings with your male friends an ordinary practice. They’re things that everyone has! Being able to share about them IS normal.
5. Find support
There’s loads of support out there for you – or for someone you know. The Movember website is a great place to start, and so is Cancer Research, Macmillan, the Samaritans and Mind.
Your own GP – and your Equipsme GP – are also here for you if you need them. Don’t hesitate to use them, it’s exactly what they’re there for.
6. Keep it up
This isn’t just a one-time thing, one conversation with yourself or with someone else. It’s got to be an ongoing commitment to take care of your body, mind – and friends.
Keep checking in, keep checking, keep talking - and keep seeking help when you need to.