Men’s Health Week 2024: Time for a men’s health strategy?

Mens hands


To mark Men’s Health Week, Fenella Lloyd – Senior Account Manager at Incisive Health – considers why policy intervention in men’s health is needed and how the next government could drive change

From overrepresentation in clinical trials and medical textbooks[1] to a greater chance of being correctly diagnosed during a heart attack,[2] men’s health has benefitted from an unequal society in many ways. To redress this imbalance, there has been a necessary policy focus on women’s health in recent years to call out these inequalities and improve health outcomes for women.

However, men’s health is far from ‘solved’. There is a significant gap in health policy – missing from party manifestos thus far – in addressing some of the health issues that primarily or exclusively affect men.

Men are less likely to seek medical help

Research from across the globe shows that men are less likely to seek medical help early or at all.[3] This hesitancy has been attributed to men not wanting to be perceived as weak or waiting for an illness to become ‘sufficiently serious’ before seeking help.[3] These attitudes may even be rooted in a societal perception of health as a ‘feminine’ concern,[4] with nurturing and healing regarded as classically ‘female’ in comparison to ‘male’ stoicism ­– the NHS workforce being 77% women would arguably corroborate this.[5]

This fear of perceived weakness – coupled with a lower understanding of both symptoms, and the importance of early diagnosis, compared to women[3] – leads to poor health outcomes which are avoidable. As prevention becomes a greater policy priority, targeted intervention will be vital in encouraging men to seek help early without shame.

Men are experiencing a mental health crisis

Rising levels of mental illness among men is regarded by many as a modern crisis. Suicide is the primary cause of death for men under 50.[6] Whilst the classification of mental health conditions transcends biological sex, conditions like depression can manifest differently in men and women –irritability, aggression, loss of control and risk-taking are all more common symptoms in men.[7]

Despite a clear need for intervention, men are less likely to access mental health services than women, making up only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies.[7] With mental health services at breaking point, public campaigns and policy rhetoric to get men talking about mental health are not enough. Long-term investment in services is needed to ensure that once men do take the difficult step in reaching out for help, the system is equipped to support them.

Men are not a homogenous group with shared outcomes

When we talk about men’s health in broad terms, we risk focusing exclusively on the experiences of a certain type of man – white, heterosexual, middle-class – and ignoring the effects of inequalities. There is no homogenous male experience of health and wellbeing: race, sexuality, socio-economic status and many other factors create variation in experiences and outcomes. For example, Black men have a significantly higher risk of developing prostate cancer in the UK – 1 in 4 will get prostate cancer in their lifetime, compared with 1 in 8 for other men.[7] Policymakers have a duty to ensure that underserved individuals or groups of men are not left behind. 

The way forward

So how can we meaningfully respond to these issues? Whilst policy inescapably involves complex trade-offs, addressing men’s and women’s health can be done simultaneously and harmoniously. The problem lies when men’s health is only evoked as a bargaining tool during conversations centred around women, which distracts from the genuine issues.

A clear way to afford men’s health its own place in the policy landscape could be the development of dedicated men’s health strategy for England. The Women’s Health Strategy for England, published in 2021, came as a result of years of campaigning and advocacy by champions of women’s health from across the policy sphere. The strategy has played a vital role on carving out a dedicated space for women’s health, with priority areas identified for the next decade.

A parallel strategy published by the next government could bring credibility to the specific challenges in men’s health across the life course – from equipping boys with a greater understanding of their health and the confidence to seek help at a young age, to embedding mental health interventions to reduce high suicide rates and promoting early diagnosis of conditions such as cancer later in life.

Addressing men’s health can be done in good faith by explicitly enshrining priorities in policy. A new government provides a valuable opportunity for a fresh look at the health and wellbeing issues men experience. Without clear direction, we risk allowing men’s health to become a battleground in a wider culture war, with men’s and women’s health unnecessarily pitted against one another. Instead, we should think of efforts to improve men’s and women’s health and wellbeing as puzzle pieces, slotting together to form part of a larger picture: better outcomes for all.

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1.    GSK. ‘We’re not a world of men – it's as simple as that’: how gender diversity in clinical trials improves health outcomes for women. 2023.

2.    British Heart Foundation. Bias and Biology. 2019.

3.    Men’s Health Forum. Key Data: Understanding of Health and Access to Services.

4.    Alan White et al. The State of Men’s Health in Europe: extended report. 2011.

5.    NHS England. NHS celebrates the vital role hundreds of thousands of women have played in the pandemic. 2021.

6.    Mental Health Foundation. Men and mental health. 2021.

7.    Prostate Cancer UK. Black men and prostate cancer