Manxiety: Is it and should it be a thing?

Words are fine things. Through them we can tell each other about almost anything. From explaining rocket science to describing that cool thing you saw on the bus on Tuesday. Words and their flexibility might just be the thing that separates us from the other apes but words can be a double edged sword.  It is the word Manxiety that has caused controversy and brought on these philosophical rambling.

Our story starts with news that men with anxiety are twice as likely to get cancer; as it was reported by the Telegraph. A survey of 16,000 Brits over 15 years has found that men with anxiety are twice as likely to get cancer when controlling for smoking, alcohol and exercise. There was no similar correlation for women. The reason for this relationship isn’t known though it could be due to men being more likely to wait before seeking treatment for anxiety or not seeking help at all.

The Daily Mail took a slightly different approach to reporting the news. Men are worrying themselves to death it seems from the “curse of manxiety”. Interestingly the Mail says that this could be due to men being more likely to self-medicate with the alcohol and cigarettes that were controlled for in the Telegraph.

It was the use of the word manxiety that caught Anna Rhodes’ attention and lead her to write a rebuke published by Heat Street. Before we go it into her thoughts on the subject it might be good to check we are on the same page about what anxiety actually is. Anxiety is worry. Not the normal healthy “I have a job interview tomorrow” worry. No anxiety is constant worry about things big and small. Anxiety puts you into a corner: you can worry so much that something as simple buying milk becomes stressful and more complex things seem life threatening.

Anxiety is not a small condition. This is the source of Anna’s concern. For her the word manxiety sets up a false dichotomy: women get anxiety and men get manxiety. In doing so it perpetuates the idea that men with feelings are odd. It stigmatises these men meaning that they will be less likely to seek help should the word manxiety perpetuate. She points to manflu and manbaby to argue that words with the man prefix are seen as lesser – manflu is a condition a man gets when he has a mild cold and puts up a fuss about it not a real, possibly life threatening, condition. It is conceivable that manxiety could go the same way: a joke aimed at men with anxiety.

It is not the first time this discussion has happened. Way, way back in December 2015 Jacamo, a clothing company, launched a campaign to get men to fight manxiety, talk about body image and presumably sell some clothes. The use of the word manxiety in the campaign got picked up by Ellen Scott who wrote in the Metro asking us not to make manxiety “a thing”. Ellen’s reasoning is much the same as Anna’s. For them it makes light of the subject and will make it harder for men to seek help.

Google first becomes aware of manxiety in September 2005 and its biggest peak in usage picked up by google comes in November 2006. Doing a Google search for these months turns up lots of Daily Mail pages that don’t seem to feature the word at all. It fell in and out of usage until May 2011 where it starts its current constant but low level of usage. When its usage is compared to anxiety manxiety turns up as a flat line on the bottom of the graph; hardly used at all. While something to keep in mind this limited usage does not diminish Anna’s or Ellen’s augment as we can see the exact same pattern when comparing usage of flu and manflu.

There is certainly some merit to their arguments. Though I do wonder if by talking about it they and I haven’t made it more of a thing than it would have been otherwise. Reading though news stories about men I read the Daily Mail’s manxiety article without realising at any point that they had stuck on the front of anxiety until I read the Heat Street article that pointed it out.

Photo by David Hepworth originally found on Flickr used under creative commons licence.