Five surprising - and shocking - facts about men's health
Some facts about men’s health are fairly well known:
- On average, men die 3.7 years earlier than women
- Men go to the doctor less than women
- Men are three times more likely to die from suicide than women
To accompany today's International Men’s Day debate in Parliament, here are five surprising facts that are less well known – and some suggestions on the policy implications at flow from them:
Even today, in the UK, one man in five dies before the age of 65.
The figures are shocking. 19% of men in England, in Wales and Northern Ireland – and 22% of men in Scotland die before they retire. There are also huge inequalities between men. The highest life expectancy for newborn baby boys in 2012-14 was 83.3 in Kensington & Chelsea. The lowest was 73.3 in Glasgow – 10 years earlier.
You might expect, given this gap, that men’s health would be thoroughly investigated in every area and an action plan put in place. But our 2015 report on local authority Joint Strategic Needs Assessments showed that only 18% adequately recorded information by gender.
The peak age for male suicide is older than you think
Campaigners such as CALM have rightly highlighted that suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 45.
But it’s important not to forget older men. The peak age group for death from suicide is actually 45-49. There are almost as many deaths from suicide amongst men over the age of 50 as there are for men under 45.
According to a review by the Samaritans in 2012, there are some key factors that can increase the risk of suicide including:
- Being male – men are more likely to respond to stress by taking risks like misusing alcohol.
- Relationship breakdowns – marriage breakdown is more likely to lead men to suicide.
- Mid-life – people in mid-life are experiencing greater unhappiness than younger and older people.
- Emotional illiteracy – men are less likely to have a positive view of talking therapies.
- Socio-economic factors – unemployed people are 2-3 times more likely to die by suicide than those in work and suicide increases during economic recession.
Personality traits may interact with these factors to increase the risk of suicide.
Men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women. Only 36% of referrals to IAPT (Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies) are men.
Find out more about How to make mental health services work for men - our guide to the latest research produced in collaboration with the Movember Foundation and the Leeds Beckett University Centre for Men's Health.
Men are 67% more likely to die from the common cancers that affect both sexes - with one exception
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer amongst men and the cancer that causes most deaths amongst men over 85. But men are 37% more likely to die from cancer overall – and 67% more likely to die than women from the cancers that men and women share (excluding sex-specific cancers and breast cancer):
The exception is breast cancer which still affects women in far greater numbers. But it is increasing amongst men. Last year, more men in England and Wales died of breast cancer (74) than testicular cancer (55).
Much more research is needed. You can find out more from our report Men and Cancer: Saving Lives.
Men are nearly twice as likely as women to die prematurely from diabetes
Diabetes isn’t often thought of as a particularly male health problem. But men are more likely to get it, twice as likely to suffer complications such as foot ulcers, more likely to require an amputation and twice as as likely to die prematurely. And there’s surprisingly little research into why this is.
One increasing risk factor is that men and boys are now more likely to be overweight or obese than women and girls at every age – from Reception year at school through to adulthood.
The Men’s Health Forum is working with Diabetes UK and the Department of Health to get action.
The reason men don't go to the GP is that they don’t want to take time off work
Men do go to the doctor just as much as women – as soon as they retire. The big gap is in working age – and a key factor is that men are justifiably concerned about taking time off work for mental health problems.
In the 2016 GP Patient Survey, retired men were as likely to have seen their GP as retired women. Amongst people working full-time, 37% of men had seen their GP in the past 3 months compared to 53% of women. Excluding ‘reproductive events’ closes the gap a degree but that doesn’t explain the whole difference.
Men’s Health Forum research shows that a major factor is reluctance to take time off work – particularly for mental health issues. And it's a fear that may well be justified.
A third - 34% - of working-age men would be embarrassed or ashamed to take time off work for mental health issue such as anxiety or depression compared to only 13% for a physical injury. Over half of men with mental health problems – 52% – were concerned that their employer would think worse of them.
This comes on top of men's reluctance to take time off work for medical problems anyway. In the same survey, 30% of men wouldn't take time off work for blood in their urine, 40% wouldn't for an unexpected lump and 42% wouldn't for chest pain. For "feeling low or down", 85% wouldn't take time off work and for anxiety, 81%.
A recent report from the EHRC suggests that men are right to be worried about their employers knowing about their mental health issues. Men with mental health problems can earn 42% less.
That’s one reason the Men’s Health Forum calls for greater access to mental health services outside so-called ‘normal’ opening hours.
Is this all that needs to be done?
It’s tough for men to ask for help but if you don’t ask when you need it, things generally only get worse. Especially during a major pandemic like Covid-19. So we’re asking.
Men appear more likely to get Covid-19 and far, far more likely to die from it. The Men's Health Forum are working hard pushing for more action on this from government, from health professionals and from all of us. Why are men more affected and what can we do about it? We need the data. We need the research. We need the action. Currently we're the only UK charity doing this - please help us.
Here’s our fund-raising page - please chip in if you can.