Men’s Health: The Real Reason Men Die Sooner and Live Sicker

The real reason men are lonelyI never realized how lonely life could be until I got divorced.  My wife got custody of the kids and I didn’t realize how much I would miss seeing them every day until I became the “non-custodial parent.”  She also got custody of the house and I moved into my cousin’s garage, which was all I could afford. I soon realized that most of our friends were actually her friends.  The friends I had before we got married had mostly drifted away and I hadn’t made new ones.  My wife had become the social secretary and I counted on her to plan the parties and keep us connected with our family, friends, and neighbors.

She and I had married young.  I was 22 and she was 19.  We had a little boy three years after we married and then adopted a little girl three years later.  My life revolved around my career.  I got good at it and felt proud that I could support our growing family.  My wife and I were happy in those early years and it felt like we were a team.  She managed the home and I brought in the income to buy the things we needed.  I thought I was doing the right thing.  I thought we had it all.  I didn’t think I needed to work to make and keep friends.  I thought I just had to work to keep my wife and kids happy.  It took me a long time to realize how wrong I was.

Psychologist Herb Goldberg captured the reality of men’s health and their men experience in his book, The Hazards of Being Male:  Surviving the Myth of Masculine Privilege.  “The male has paid a heavy price for his masculine ‘privilege’ and power.  He is out of touch with his emotions and his body.  He is playing by the rules of the male game plan, and with lemming-like purpose he is destroying himself—emotionally, psychologically, and physically.”

Will Courtney, Ph.D. is one of the world’s experts on men’s health.  In his 2011 book, Dying to Be Men, he details the current research findings that show that men die sooner and live sicker.  “Men in the United States have greater socioeconomic advantages than women,” he says.  “These advantages, which include higher social status and higher-paid jobs, provide men with better access to health-related resources.”  That’s the upside of being male.

But there is also a down side.  “Despite these advantages, men—on average—are at greater risk of serious chronic disease, injury, and death than women.”  For nearly all 15 leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, stroke, accidents, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, suicide, and homicide;  men and boys have higher age-adjusted death rates than women and girls.  The only exception is Alzheimer’s disease where women die at higher rates than men.

Over the years I’ve learned the benefits of such things as good nutrition and exercise to helping us live more healthy lives.  I’ve only recently learned about the benefits of social connection.  In their book Loneliness:  Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection researchers John Cacioppo and William Patrick say that “social isolation is on a par with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise, or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death.”  Now that surprised me.  I never would have thought that lack of social connections could actually cause serious medical problems.

Studies also demonstrate that men, as a group, have fewer social connections than women.  In workshops over the years I have asked the women in the audience, “how many of you have a number of close friends that you talk to about important things in your life and who you turn to when you are hurting physically or emotionally?”  Most all the women raise their hands.  When I ask the same question of men, very few raise their hands.  Most women have many close friends and confidants among their relatives and friends.  For most men, their only real friend may be their spouse and if there’s trouble in the relationship, they are totally alone.

I learned that, like me, men often have fewer and fewer close friends as we get older.  This may contribute to the fact that the suicide rate for men goes up dramatically as we age.  Thomas Joiner, Ph.D. author of Lonely at the Top:  The High Cost of Men’s Success says, “Men’s main problem is not self-loathing, stupidity, greed, or any of the legions of other things they’re accused of.  The problem, instead is loneliness.”

Joiner notes that with age, men gradually lose contact with friends and family.  “And here’s the important part,” he tells us, “they don’t replenish them.”  Instead of maintaining our friendships and developing new ones when old friends slip away, we look for Band-Aid solutions to cover our loneliness.  Some of us become more workaholic, others escape into alcohol or drugs.  Some have extra-marital affairs.  These pseudo-solutions only serve to increase our loneliness.

Most of us realize that it’s never too late to change our diet or improve our exercise.  Likewise, it’s never too late for us to admit we’re lonely, reach out to others, improve our relationships, and make new friends.  It may be the best health advice we’ll ever receive.  The alternative isn’t pleasant.  A postmortem report on a suicide decedent, a man in his sixties, read, “He did not have friends…He did not feel comfortable with other men…he did not trust doctors and would not seek help even though he was aware that he needed help.”

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  1. Yet some men are not isolated and lonely. They are the ones who feel safe in their skin. In my eyes, loneliness is a symptom of a deeper cause, which is fear/trauma. And there is a particular form of trauma that affects more men than women, for just as a lot of females remember childhood molestation, we know beyond all doubt – due to the physical scar – that a majority of male infants in the USA were subjected to an assault to their genitals – aka “circumcision”. Far more than a “little snip”, circumcision is a foundational assault to the very being of the child. It throws a loving, living, breathing child, who was designed to trust, relax, and be happy – into a state of terror from which many never recover. Fortunate are those who know to target this trauma, so they can release it and heal. How can I say this? Because I match the criteria here for “male loneliness”, which I translate into “traumatized person still in fear of people who carry sharp knives – and in fear of people who might allow persons with sharp knives to cut them up”. What do you think?

    • Patricia,

      I was not circumcised as an infant. I was 3 years old and remember it as it was done under local anesthesia (this was in the early 1960’s). I hate to rain on your parade, but I hardly considered that any type of traumatic event that affected my ability to trust. I think your proposition is an extreme leap of logic and I think I am being kind in that assessment. For what it is worth….

      If this was one of the most traumatic things that has happened in my life then I would consider myself as having a pretty darn good life.

  2. Patricia, I agree with you totally that trauma can be at the core of the fear and disconnection so many have that keeps them lonely and apart. I also agree that circumcision is more traumatic, whether done to little girls or little boys. In my book, The Warrior’s Journey Home: Healing Men, Healing the Planet, I said I believed that circumcision was a form of child sexual abuse. Just as most of would recognize the abusive nature when done to little girls, we need to recognize the abusive nature when it is done to boys.

    I spoke to a child-health advocate from North Africa, a woman who had been subjected to circumcision as a little girl and was an advocate to end the practice. She said it never occurred to her that what was done to boys was similar, at all, to what was done to girls. She said, “I totally changed my mind when I witnessed a male circumcision and heard the baby scream. It was the same scream I made when I was a baby and the same scream I had heard from girls.” Now she is an advocate for leaving little baby’s genitals intact the way God intended, both little girl babies and little boy babies.

  3. Clarification of my last comment. I was circumcised at the age of 3 and not as a baby.

  4. Thomas E. Harvey says:

    A key to over coming loneliness is to stop focusing on yourself. Offer your self to the world. It’s worked for me.

  5. John Groves says:

    I think we need to ask God regarding circumcision as he gave instruction to the people of Isreal.

    • John, interestingly, in my research, i discovered a book that was the original history of the jewish people – “The Book of J”. In it, there is no circumcision covenant with Abraham. The story referred to as “The rape of Dinah” also was changed from the original – sexed up and violenced up. I have little regard for the edits that insert cruelty – feel no need to comply to anything that demands blood or fear.

      • Patricia, Many of seen the statue of King David by Michelangelo. He appears to be uncircumcised, which would seem strange since he was Jewish. Did Michelangelo make a mistake when he created the sculpture? It seems not. There’s evidence that originally circumcision involved a symbolic cut of the foreskin, not the practice it has come to be. So, even if you believe in that God decreed that all Jewish boys be circumcised, it may be that what God had in mind was more symbolic than barbaric.

  6. Hi Jed, my girlfriend, Danuta forwarded this to me. She had given me her copy of “The Irritable Male” to read when we first started dating. This gives me “permission” to accept your invitation to her to comment.

    First of all, although the act of male circumcision is barbaric at best, it would be tenuous to the point of nullity to attempt to connect this act to dysfunction later in life. No doubt there are plenty of “Red Queens” out there prepared to believe “as many as 6 impossible things before breakfast” but I sure hope most of us have somewhat better reasoning skills than that.

    In my case, I was isolated and alone long before my marriage came to an end. And sure, I fit your definition of being an irritable male. . . . as does almost every male over 40. Unfortunately the broadness of your definition precludes it being any real use, the solutions are as individual as each of us is. Human beings have a remarkable ability to exhibit complex behaviors. I for one resent any and all attempts to categorize me.

    All men are dicks and all women are bitches. Only when we accept and move past that are we able to truly be whole. There is a huge difference between being alone and being lonely. They are only remotely related subjects. If you want my opinion (and you sort of asked for it), the key is to learn to like and be friends with yourself.

    • Peter, I agree with a number of things you said. There certainly is a difference between being alone and being lonely. I enjoy being alone. I don’t enjoy being lonely. When I feel lonely I usually feel disconnected from myself and those around me. And I agree with you that we have to learn to like and be friends with ourselves. I’m not sure what you mean when you say all men are dicks and all women are bitches. That doesn’t sound very self-liking, but I may be missing your meaning.

      • What I mean is that we all are human and have moments in our lives when we are less than wonderful. Being successful in love means accepting someone, faults and all. Being able to look at your spouse and tell her “you are being a bitch right now” and her being able to accept this without rancor is in my opinion an important key to a successful relationship.

        Sometimes when I look at myself in the mirror I do not like what I see. Being able to accept that sometimes I really am a dick, is of prime importance. If I am unable to see myself as I really am, how can I possibly hope to have a functional relationship with anyone, including myself?

        I’m not trying to say we need to dwell on our negatives. I have plenty of good qualities too. What I am saying is we need to keep it real. And to accept the whole package, not just the good parts.

        • Peter, thanks for the clarification. I agree that sometimes we see things in ourselves we don’t like. And it is important to accept ourselves with our flaws as well as our glories.

  7. Brother K says:

    The second-class citizenship of American boys is a disgrace. Parents would never let a doctor rip apart the genitals of their precious daughters. Boys are treated like inferior citizens, without the same right to bodily integrity that girls enjoy under the law. The male penis has been trivialized into a disgusting dirty object of scorn by the circumcision industry, which has no intention of ever stopping their cruel practice. They hide behind a smokescreen of preposterous health claims that men in the rest of the world disprove by merely living with their intact genitals, just as normal men & women have lived throughout human history. The reality is that the pro-circ medical lobby has a vision of America as a place where generation after generation of men will live and die with wounded genitals. The malevolent genius of forced infant circumcision is that its victims become its chief proponents in a terrible impulse to deny their own loss. As a circumcised man, I stand up with the truth, “This is wrong. It stops with me.” Others who accept their circumcision without objection, or embrace it, live under the tyranny of the circumciser, who owns them. Every absurd hypothesis put forth by the circumciser to justify himself has also been used to justify female circumcision. It’s a sick world out there, and American doctors bear the bloodstained mark of their own shame.

    • Brother K,

      I’m with you that we need to do a better job at taking care of our boys. It starts with keeping them intact the way God made them. Many people still don’t recognize the harmful effect that cutting off the foreskin of an infant male does to him. Like all examples of child abuse, the trauma often is forgotten consciously, though its effects last throughout our lives. Its certainly not the only trauma that males experience growing up, but it is often the earliest and the unkindest cut of all.

  8. Sister J says:

    Sometimes the best thing to do is to build a bridge and then walk across it. I have seen countless people (countless women and men) refuse to do so and by refusing it hurts them and it hurts their children. Life is hard, painful, and can bring on such sorrow and anxiety. So what’s a person to do. They can give up or they can work at building that bridge then work at getting across it. That’s it. Just two choices. But first one needs to recognize that building a bridge is in order. I know I did and I crossed it years ago. Know this, you are not alone or have the monopoly on pain and suffering. The degree perhaps but as long as we all continue being human we are subject to pain and suffering and yes loneliness. If not at this moment perhaps tomorrow. Thats why we can all agree that life is hard. I have never meet a person who hasn’t taken a hit. So if you haven’t done so already, get out that tool belt, call a friend if need be and get to work. Many blessings to those who wrote on this blog and those who will read this blog. Xoxoxo

    • Sister J,

      Thanks for the comments. We all have an opportunity to build bridges. I appreciate what you do.

      • Jed, just so there are no misunderstandings, I am not a sister per say. I am a mother and a wife of almost 20 years. And yes, my husband has been moody lately which is why I landed on your page. After almost 20 years there are things I can talk with my husband about and he is open. The topic of moodiness is one. He calls himself the old cranky white man. This I do not except. I have witness the behavior get away from him like an unstoppable train and its no fun for anyone. And…I have heard..Im set in my ways. .. all excuses to be a jerk if you ask me. Men Creating friendship is very important as you pointed out. I have already had this discussion with him. He agreed with you and could see your point. Your doing great work Jed. Discussions in some households are happening and this household thanks you brother. Love, this sister () we are all in this together and I wish everyone knew that and embraced that because this would be a better would if we did. Xoxoxo

  9. Ed Connor says:

    Men are lonely. It is societal conditioning. Be selfless. Be a provider. Tend to the needs of your family first. Work hard and come home tired; no time for hobbies, sports, friends, family was my entertainment. After an injury and no longer able to continue in a physically demanding career. “I was not the man she married.” Because my wife and children were the focus and purpose of my life. I am lonely and disengaged from society. That’s male privilege?

  10. Ed, You say it exactly true. We buy into a view of manhood that tells us to work hard, bring home the bacon, cover our pain, don’t complain, do it all for the family. But when we break under the strain we are often left alone and wounded. I’m glad you have the courage to share your feelings of anger and frustration. I hope you continue reaching out and getting reconnected to something in the world that nourishes you and allows you to be the kind of good man you know you are, even if you’ve become disconnected over the years.

  11. Amazing.. try to check this out…