MENtal Wellbeing : Male Body Image and Mental Health

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With Movember coming to a close – this week I’m looking at men’s mental health.
Mental health issues for men is a growing problem with the Royal College of Practitioners reporting an increase of 66% in male hospital admissions.
It may be surprising (to some) but if you happened to spy on a men’s locker room – you’d see the guys checking each other out. Not in a sexual way, but merely as a way of sizing up the competition as it were. How muscular are they? How big are their genitals?… Friends may take the mickey or even praise each other on the size of their manhood!
However, in more recent years, what was previously classed as locker room “banter” is now starting to affect a guy’s mental state. Body image for men has some similarities as those for women but also some big differences – one of which being the lack of research and studies.
As men’s interest in fashion and fitness have increased, so has the number of images of the so-called perfect male body in magasines and on the TV. In addition to this, with the decline of the traditionally male industries, men have lost a source of masculine pride and identity and men are now finding their bodies being under close scrutiny.
Studies have found that men with bigger balls produce more sperm (and therefore more likely to become a father), whereas those with smaller balls were found to have greater intelligence (perhaps making them better fathers).  In a similar way, hair is production is linked to Testosterone levels so there was a thought that hairy men were therefore seen as more virile.  Both studies consequently then try to link these “attributes” to how attractive they would be to a potential partner!
When it comes to their body image – Men are generally told they should be tall, lean and muscular, have a full head of hair and a large penis. And while trends come and go, apparently gaining more popularity is facial stubble/beard, little body hair, and tattoos.
In the same way it has affected women – this now near constant barrage is starting to affect men’s mental health, with a range of differing Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. The extent of which can depend on the visibility of the body part, the ease of control over it’s state and the extent of it being a symbol of the person’s masculinity.
Both Male Pattern Baldness and penis size – can lead to obsessive behaviours. Such as constantly trying different treatments, gadgets and surgery – which can all rack up a large amount of debt – which brings further problems….
However the 2 biggest threats to men’s mental health as far as body image is concerned, are Anorexia and Muscle Dysmorphia.
11% of Anorexia sufferers are male and while it can affect men of all ages, more commonly it affects those between the ages of 14 and 25, with suffers obsessively doing a lot of high intensity exercise and under eating, with a view to getting as high a calorie deficit as possible in order to lose weight.
A recent study of male gym users found 1 in 10 suffered from Muscle Dysmorphia. The Opposite of Anorexia  – sufferers feel that they are never big enough, over-training and straining their muscles, eating  large amounts, taking supplements and fangerously, it can also lead to steroid abuse.
Both are serious conditions that can be fatal in their own right but it should be noted that all are underlined by depression, which can lead to alcohol and substance abuse and suicide is the single, biggest killer in men under the age of 35.
Although things are improving – men are least likely to open up or talk about their feelings and there is still a generalisation that those men that do are somehow “weak” – but guys it’s time to “Man Up”!
It’s time for us to be strong by not giving in to the stereotyped images and be brave by talking about how we feel instead of bottling it up.
We need to create a new ideal of what it is to be a man, and it starts by being you.
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