Why don't men seek help? Family physicians' perspectives on help-seeking behavior in men

J Fam Pract. 1999 Jan;48(1):47-52.


Background: Men tend to underuse primary care health services despite their susceptibility to particular types of illness. The purpose of this study was to report the family physician's perspective on why men do not access the health care system for medical problems.

Methods: We used focus group interviews to identify major themes. The participants were family physicians in active practice randomly selected from a list of 500 full- and part-time teachers. Four focus groups were formed from 18 participants (12 men, 6 women), in practice an average of 17 years. Eleven of the physicians were in community practice.

Results: Three key themes were identified: (1) Support: Men appear to get most of their support for health concerns from their female partners, little from their male friends. Their pattern of seeking support tends to be indirect rather than straightforward. (2) Help Seeking: Perceived vulnerability, fear, and denial are important influences on whether men seek help. They look for help for specific problems rather than for more general health concerns. (3) Barriers: Personal barriers involved factors related to a man's traditional social role characteristics: a sense of immunity and immortality; difficulty relinquishing control; a belief that seeking help is unacceptable; and believing men are not interested in prevention. Systematic barriers had to do with time and access; having to state the reason for a visit; and the lack of a male care provider.

Conclusions: Many of these findings are supported by psychological theories. Future research should apply these theories in more transferable populations and settings. However, an in-depth understanding of the patterns of men's use of primary care services is needed before we can determine if a regular source of primary care would have a positive impact on their health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Men / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Physicians, Family / psychology*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Social Support