Matt Handcock - Health Policy Partnership

Matt Handcock

‘It’ll get better on its own’: men and their resistance to seeing a doctor

14 June 2022

Men’s Health Week 2022 focuses on the need for men to check-in on their health more regularly. But why are many men averse to seeking healthcare?

There is a disconnect between men and our health systems. Men generally die earlier, become ill at a younger age and develop more chronic illnesses than women. Despite these health concerns, men are also up to 50% less likely to seek medical attention than women. What is stopping men from getting the help they need?

A combination of factors has created a culture of resistance in the male population to accessing healthcare, but two central concepts stand out: masculinity and health literacy.
 

What is stopping men from accessing healthcare?

In many societies, stoic masculine stereotypes are becoming increasingly outdated. Toughness, strength and self-sufficiency no longer define the male ideal. But these traits remain a harmful barrier to men accessing the health system.

In one US survey conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, 65% of men said they avoid seeking medical attention for as long as possible, citing reasons such as being too busy, believing ailments will heal by themselves, and feelings of weakness.

Amplifying the consequences of these traditional gender norms is an inadequate level of health literacy among men. Knowledge of disease warning signs, awareness of symptoms and the importance of early medical intervention has consistently been found to be lower in men than women. Gender also interacts with other intersectional factors, such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status, which can compound a lack of health education and awareness, reducing health literacy and further delaying medical help.

65% of men said they avoid seeking medical attention for as long as possible, citing reasons such as being too busy, believing ailments will heal by themselves, and feelings of weakness.

 
These barriers can cause delays in diagnosis and treatment, with potentially deadly consequences. This is exemplified by the 5-year net survival rate of prostate cancer in England: when diagnosed at stage 1 or stage 2, the 5-year net survival rate is 100%; this drops slightly to 96% at stage 3, and then sharply to 49% at stage 4. People who receive a diagnosis at an earlier stage of the disease have a better prognosis. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this worse by reducing access to healthcare for non-COVID-related conditions, resulting in missed health checks, cancelled appointments and undiagnosed illnesses.

Shifting the male consciousness will not be easy, and will take time. I, myself, have repeatedly put off going to the doctor for several of the above-mentioned reasons: I’m too busy, it will get better on its own, it’s embarrassing.
 

How can we encourage men to prioritise their health?

This Men’s Health Week, we should focus on the short- and long-term solutions to fixing the relationship between men and accessing healthcare.

In the short term, we need to encourage men to go to see a doctor. By any means necessary. Friends, family and partners can help by being open to discussing health in a positive way, which can hopefully reduce the perceived stigma of men accessing healthcare.

Anyone who is putting off accessing care should be encouraged to prioritise their health. Attending a healthcare practice or clinic is both safe and confidential, and receiving a diagnosis for an ailment will not only allow for more timely treatment but will also reduce worry and stress about undiagnosed symptoms.
 

We need to improve health literacy – increased education on the importance of health and awareness of common disease symptoms will help reduce delays in men accessing healthcare.

 

In the longer term, we need to improve health literacy – both in general across the whole population, and more specifically to address gender inequalities. Increased education on the importance of health and awareness of common disease symptoms will help reduce delays in men accessing healthcare. Organisations such as Movember and the OddBalls Foundation provide information and resources to help increase awareness and destigmatise male health issues.

More broadly, we need to change the societal culture of masculine bravado and break the all too common perception among men that seeking medical help is something you only do in an emergency. Engaging in proactive prevention, diagnosis and treatment will help reduce disease burden and mortality within the male population.

This Men’s Health Week, all men should take the time to consider their health. This means frequently checking up on mental and physical health, and seeing a healthcare professional if concerned. This is not only a mantra for the week but a reminder that prioritising your health and actively engaging with your local healthcare provider is an essential and ongoing process.

 

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Health Policy Partnership.
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