Why Do Men Fail at Well-Being?

Experts ● January 2019

There’s a line of dialogue in the enduring 1980s beer-and-brawler flick Roadhouse that sums up man’s attitude to getting help better than I ever could. Patrick Swayze’s good-hearted, hard-as-nails protagonist has just been stabbed and is sat in hospital being stitched up by a beautiful doctor. When she asks him if he’d like an anaesthetic he simply shakes his head and mutters “pain don’t hurt”.

These three demented words not only epitomise much of what’s wrong with the traditional male attitude towards seeking help, they also impress the doctor so much she ends up having sex with Swayze.

While you’d have to go a long way to find someone who’d take you seriously while referencing Roadhouse, the quote’s significance shouldn’t be underplayed. Whether it’s Patrick Swayze, Doctor Dre or Bruce Lee, we’ve always taken our cues from larger-than-life male icons. These guys typically came in one of two flavours: dick-swinging alpha conquerors or stoic, ever-suffering genius introverts. The first type didn’t need help and the second was admired for never asking for it.

We’ve always taken our cues from larger-than-life male icons. These guys typically came in one of two flavours: dick-swinging alpha conquerors or stoic, ever-suffering genius introverts. The first type didn’t need help and the second was admired for never asking for it.

The consequences of “manning up” are well-known enough to be no longer shocking. Men go to the doctors, on average, half as often as women. The upshot of this is that men of a certain age die of entirely preventable illnesses twice as much as women. One in four adults experiences a mental health problem each year and yet men are far less likely to seek professional help than women. These facts, and others like them, explain why more than three-quarters of all suicides are committed by men.

To this day a lot of advertising that’s aimed at men carries unhelpful macho overtones. Cosmetic products aimed at us are still apologetic objects, often packaged in gun-metal grey and called things like Face Ammo or Skin Armour. Whether it’s a YouTube pre-roll for anti-flu medication or a cardboard box containing moisturiser the message is clear: life is war; you’re a soldier; getting ill is tantamount to surrender.

Whether it’s a YouTube pre-roll for anti-flu medication or a cardboard box containing moisturiser the message is clear: life is war; you’re a soldier; getting ill is tantamount to surrender.

There is of course nothing inherently masculine about working until your brain turns to dust. Recent studies suggest that between 21 and 30 hours of a job each week represents the limits of what most people can put up with before their wellbeing suffers. Even still, the culture of work-based machismo persists. Too many of us seek validation by staying late in the office, checking work emails on weekends and speed-eating Pret sandwiches at our desks in lieu of lunch. In one recent study 34 per cent of men admitted they were “constantly feeling stressed or under pressure”. The truth is that overworking has taken its place next to sport and laddish behaviour as a way for men to suppress and mask their emotions, something that can result in substance abuse, sex addiction, anxiety and self-destructive behaviour.

It all adds up to a climate in which men don’t feel compelled to get help for anything, no matter how big or (deceptively) trivial. By contrast, the women in my life have never hesitated to kick their problems about with friends and relatives. Insecurities are aired, relationship advice given and life-changing anti-blemish products sought out. Men on the other hand meet with their friends, discuss their long-held belief that the live-action AKIRA remake would make for a better TV series than a film, and then go home to Google “why are my testicles weird” alone at three in the morning.

Men on the other hand meet with their friends, discuss their long-held belief that the live-action AKIRA remake would make for a better TV series than a film, and then go home to Google “why are my testicles weird” alone at three in the morning.

It’s a nonsense to suggest that men don’t care about this stuff. Every guy I’ve ever met was harbouring a number of deep-rooted insecurities (the majority of which, let’s be honest, can be boiled down to “is my penis normal”?) Most men would gladly break their own arm for a life-changing anti-blemish product, let alone a solution to all of their crippling pyschosexual hang-ups.

For too long society’s lazy presumptions about masculinity provided the parameters between which we were allowed to operate. Luckily, this is changing. Exhibit A: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. As well as being one of the most famous men on the planet, The Rock is arguably the most manly man on the planet. And yet he goes out of his way on social media to promote himself as sensitive and highly emotional. While it’s true that he could lift you above his head and throw you into the sun, The Rock would prefer to sit you down and have a sweet-natured heart-to-heart about your anxieties. “You’ve been so honest and open,” he’d say admiringly, after you revealed a particularly personal bit of your inner-psyche, “and that’s what real strength is all about.”

While it’s true that he could lift you above his head and throw you into the sun, The Rock would prefer to sit you down and have a sweet-natured heart-to-heart about your anxieties.

For further evidence just look at the sudden proliferation of male influencers who talk about skincare. Massive growth in the male beauty market is being driven by men in their teens and 20s who don’t have the same hang ups about appearing manly as their flakey-faced, dry-scalped brothers and fathers. The trend doesn’t begin and end with cosmetics. While nowhere near as numerous as their female counterparts, male influencers who give cliche-free instruction and advice about all aspects of well-being are growing in number. For this new generation, looking good is never achieved at the expense of feeling good. And they’re not embarrassed about that.

We are lucky to live in an age where getting help isn’t just easier than ever, it also carries less stigma. The tools for improving ourselves are right there for the taking, we need only to abandon all of the dangerously limiting notions that once defined masculinity. Roadhouse will always have a place in my heart but I’ll be damned it’s going to stop me from one day discovering a really good morning grooming regime. After all, if Patrick Swayze was allowed to have really good hair, so am I.

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