‘Mo-ments’ in Movember

Growing a Moustache for Mens Health

November; That last month of Autumn bringing with it wet windy spells, short dark days and premature Christmas joys. All in an attempt to conspicuously remind us that “Winter is Coming.” If that wasn’t depressing enough, it is also the month many cultures remember those who have deceased, dubbed the month of the dead.

It has become a month of awareness thanks to a 17-year-old international charity called “Movember.” Movember seeks to bring much-needed funding and attention to the often stigmatised subjects of Prostrate/Testicular Cancer and Mental Health among men. Since 2003 Movember has raised over €719 million which is spent on Men’s health initiatives worldwide. By 2013 Movember hopes to reduce suicide by 25%. It aims to achieve this by “bring conversations about mental health out of the health system and develop successful, scalable models to improve the mental health and wellbeing of men.” By 2030 they also aim to cut prostate cancer in half by “Deepen the worldwide knowledge of prostate cancer through research.”

Movember's fund-raising campaign is novel. Men (and women) allow their moustaches to grow for the duration of November and seek sponsorship for the challenge. At months end they will shave off the moustache at various fund-raising events called ‘Moments. Many participant’s join in with group shave offs organised by businesses, employers or clubs, while others host their owners. But there are many other events throughout November including swims, 10-60 KM runs, quiz nights and more for those who can’t ‘grow a mo’.

These initiatives are vital because men's health has been an unspoken word for many years. Men dye on average 6 years earlier than their female counterparts in many cases from preventable deaths. Cancer has now overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in Ireland. 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with Prostrate cancer in their lifetime. Over 3,300 diagnosis are made a year and this figure is expected to double by 2034. Diagnosis of Testicular cancer although less common has doubled since the 1960s affecting 180 men aged 15-34 in Ireland each year.

Suicide is an alarming issue because every minute of every day a man someone in the world will commit suicide. In Ireland 75-80% of all reported suicides are among men. Emphasis on the word ‘reported’ because suicide rates are determined by ‘reported’ cases of death from suicide. Determined by the corner’s report; in many cases cause of death is classified as “undetermined” because corners can’t say for certain wither a death was by Suicide, thus potentially distorting the actual figure.

Suicide figures also don’t take into account failed attempts or self-harm which is reported to another register. Putting this aside, the rate of suicide is decreasing. Possibly because of an increase in awareness, a willingness to seek help and the availability of services. Pieta House is once such a service and a partner with the Movember Campaign in Ireland. Sinead Raftery of Pieta House has said; “people are reaching out and are accessing services and getting help.” But she also stated that although there was a decrease in suicides last year “we have also seen the number of people accessing our service has increased.” Pieta House offers counselling and support to those affected by suicide including bereavement support for those who lost a loved one to suicide.

Suicide prevalence among men can be attributed to the age of old sigma associated with men opening up about their feelings. This is an issue that has been brainwashed into men since childhood according to Colman O’Driscoll a former executive director of operations and development at Austrian crisis support service ‘Lifeline’ who said “We tell boys that 'boys don't cry.” Tom a man who shared his experience with Movember has emphasised the need for men to break the sigma stating “We need to change the dialogue to be ‘you can be tough but if things are going badly and you can’t find a way out of it on your own, then have a conversation… shed some tears and release the valve and get some help with it, There’s nothing unmasculine about that”.

So men! Don’t let November be the month of the dead…let it be the month of breaking stigmas. You can start by growing a mo. After all, its wet, cold and dark outside… perfect excuse to stop shaving. But if change your appearance is too much of a change, just knowing that being open about your feelings is okay. So don’t start complaining about the coming of winter or premature Christmas joys as a cover-up to how you're feeling. And it’s still not too late to get involved in the many Movember events across the country.

Check out my interview with Jack O'Connor from Movember Ireland - Produced for GCN