When it was first introduced in 1960, the Ministry of Transport test – or MOT as it’s commonly known – was a voluntary check-up designed to assess the ‘health’ of cars every year.
Today, it’s an essential part of vehicle ownership, providing us with information on any areas that might need care and attention as the ageing process takes its toll. The obvious parallels with our own health make it understandable why, this June, Men’s Health Month co-opted the term and called on men across the UK to take a ‘Man MOT’ in the interests of helping them get a better handle on their personal well-being.
The messaging behind the campaign as well as the language and tone it adopts are all geared towards a male audience, underlining how the sexes can sometimes take very different approaches when it comes to health. Here, we consider some of the specific issues at play when it comes to addressing the subject of health among men.
It is well documented that masculinity can present a barrier to men’s health. Although there are signs that things are changing (see below), evidence suggests that men are still less likely than women to acknowledge illness or access healthcare services. Research from the Men’s Health Forum also found that just over a third of men (34%) would be “embarrassed or ashamed” to take time off for mental health conditions. This reluctance to admit personal struggles and seek out preventive care can mean that problems become more serious because warning signs can be missed or ignored at an early stage.
Gaps in NHS provision
Most people over the age of 40 should be able to take advantage of the routine Health Check offered by the NHS. However, this service was paused during the pandemic, meaning many people will have missed out. Although services have restarted, NHS resources are experiencing unprecedented demand, meaning efforts are prioritised in favour of higher risk groups, such as those within strong indicators for cardiovascular disease.
The pandemic’s impact on men
Large proportions of men (and women) experienced a pandemic-related decline in their emotional and mental health, as research has shown. However, other studies have identified that men are more likely to report not being at all worried about the effects of the coronavirus on their lives, which indicates that there may be some people who are suffering in silence.
More openness around mental health
Thankfully, the conversation around mental health – once considered taboo – has shifted dramatically in recent years. The Public Perceptions Survey conducted by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) revealed that 79% of men agreed it is now more socially acceptable to discuss mental health than it was five years ago. While numbers remain comparatively low, men today are also more likely to seek out help, with 27% accessing therapy in 2022 compared with 18% in 2010.
Interest in private cover
In the wake of the pandemic, interest in private health testing has risen among the population as a whole. However, analysis of Google search data by health testing company YorkTest hints that men might be particularly drawn to the benefits that private healthcare can offer, with searches for ‘Bupa well man check’ increasing 156% between 2019/20 and 2021/22 compared with a 44% increase for searches for ‘Bupa female health check’.
Data such as this provides cause for optimism but, sadly, it remains the case that three-quarters of premature deaths from heart disease are male, three-quarters of suicides are male, and men are 43% more likely to die from cancer. These are sobering statistics that highlight the value of initiatives such as Men’s Health Month in focusing health messages towards men specifically and encouraging them to get a regular ‘MOT’.
Over time, as historical attitudes gradually change and men increasingly embrace these messages, it is likely that growing numbers will see the benefit in taking a more proactive role in managing their health and accessing the regular checks that are a key to assessing ongoing physical and mental health.
Barriers to access will no doubt remain, not least in terms of the delays experienced in an under-pressure NHS, but this only makes Private Medical Insurance an increasingly appealing option, providing convenient, rapid access to professional healthcare and an effective route to better men’s health.
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