By Dr Mark Steedman, PhD, Manager, Centre for Health Solutions
The moustache has a fascinating history – popular at times, eschewed at others, but always competing in the popularity stakes against the beard. From a fashion symbol popularised by monarchs of the past, to practical restrictions on beards but not moustaches because of press articles linking germs with beards and rules preventing bearded men from handling food. As a result, the popularity of the beard versus the moustache has ebbed and flowed.1 I’ve seen this even in my own lifetime. While there were a few famous moustaches that adorned the faces of Hollywood stars and musicians, for the most part, the 1990s saw the moustache fall seriously out of fashion.
All this changed in 2003 when the Movember movement was born. Movember is now a leading global charity with a vison to change the face of men’s health by supporting research into ground-breaking projects. Its funding comes from a series of events and fundraising activities throughout the month of November, involving upper lip pogonotrophy (the art of cultivating facial hair). However, back in 2003 it started as a simple challenge to raise money for cancer research by bringing back the moustache. Its focus now is on shaking up men’s health research and transforming the way health services reach and support men; with a particular focus on prostate and testicular cancers, and mental health and suicide prevention.2
Why do we need Movember?
In 2018, the UK arm of Movember raised over £10 million from over 50,000 participants. Globally, over 300,000 participants raised £57.6 million across 20 countries. The money raised is used by the Movember Foundation to fund men’s health projects around the world, focusing on diseases that are pervasive but often overlooked or understated:
- prostate cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. One in eight men in the UK will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, and more than 333,500 men in the UK are living with or after prostate cancer. Unchecked, prostate cancer rates will double over the next 15 years
- testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men in the UK. Testicular cancer rates have already doubled in the last 50. Although testicular cancer has a 95 per cent survival rate, many men face serious ongoing side effects from treatment, and one in 20 die from their cancer
- mental health and suicide prevention needs awareness. On average, one man dies by suicide every minute around the globe, with men accounting for 75 per cent of all suicides.3
To combat these statistics and improve men’s health, Movember’s goals are by 2030:
- to halve the number of men in the UK who die from prostate cancer, and halve the number of men facing serious side effects from treatment
- to halve the number of men in the UK who die from testicular cancer, and halve the number of men facing serious side effects from treatment
- to reduce the rate of male suicides by 25 per cent.4
Achieving these goals
To achieve these goals, Movember has laid out a multistep strategy for each goal. First, give men the facts. For example, many men don’t know the signs, symptoms or risk factors for prostate or testicular cancer, yet we know early action is critical. In addition, change behaviour for the better, and create services that work for men. Movember aims to fund projects that improve collaboration around the world to spread knowledge around these cancers, support men with their treatment decisions and help reduce side effects. It also aims to make treatments more tailored and affordable, and ensure that the impact of Movember’s work is felt around the world.
Movember’s strategy for mental health and suicide prevention is slightly different. Mental health issues are often hidden from plain view, and speaking up about mental health can be difficult. Movember’s strategy is focused on improving education and building communities where men feel comfortable communicating about their mental health, and where services are available and designed to work for those who need them. In my own experience as a trained Mental Health First Aider, the more we talk about mental health, the more impact we make.
What can you do to help?
As you may have guessed from the intro, the moustache is critical to raising awareness so, for 30 days, your moustache can turn you into a walking, talking billboard for men’s health. Therefore, for the month of November, I’ll be putting my razor away and doing my best to grow a moustache.
But supporting men’s health isn’t only for those who can grow moustaches – everyone can get involved. Move for Movember is a fitness challenge where participants run or walk 60 kilometres. ‘Mo bros’ and ‘Mo sistas’ can also organise and host Mo-ments – dinner parties, sporting events, bake sales or other fundraising activities to raise awareness and funding for Movember.
Whether you participate in Movember or not, helping improve communication is something everyone can help out with. Sometimes a simple conversation starter like “are you ok?” is the best way to support friends and family members who may need help, and I encourage everyone to help men address some of the key health challenges that are taking so many lives each year. If we all do our part, we’ll save some of these lives.