The Kerryman working for a charity in Melbourne: 'It's a challenging time'

Q&A: Gavan Duffy works for Movember, a group raising awareness for men's health globally

Gavan Duffy is originally from Tralee, Co Kerry, lives in Melbourne where he works for the charity Movember

When did you leave Ireland?
I left Ireland in January 2016. At the time I worked for Paddy Power in Dublin and was lucky enough to get an offer to work with their sister company Sportsbet here in Melbourne.

How is it there at the moment?
It's been a bit of a doozy hasn't it? A lot of people have had their world tipped upside down and have had to adapt to this new world. Fortunately, I think we are coming out the other side now. Cafes and restaurants are starting to open up. Sports seem to be flirting with coming back. So it's beginning to look a bit more "normal".

You work for the charity Movember. Who are they and how do you work now?
I'm a User Experience (UX) designer working on Movember's fundraising website Movember is a global men's health charity that raises funds and awareness for issues affecting men's health such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, men's mental health and suicide prevention. We are most well known for asking men around the world to grow a moustache during the hairy month of November. To the girlfriends, wives and partners of these men – we do apologise – but we are hellbent on having fun and doing good for men's health around the world.

It's a real challenging time for charities

We have global offices in Melbourne, Los Angeles, London and Toronto. Even one in Dublin. We are all working remotely now. Our office in Melbourne was told on a Monday that we would be working from home indefinitely from the next day. It happened very quickly, but being a global organisation we were all used to working remotely using platforms such as Slack and Zoom. Now we are at home – every day.

Will Movember go ahead all over the world this year? 
Will Movember go ahead this year? You bet! Others in our community are having to adapt and so shall we. Traditionally our community fundraises by either growing a moustache (no excuses there for this year fellas) or by doing "Move" - running 60km over the course of the month or putting on weird and wonderful events with mates and raising awareness for the cause.

But it’s a real challenging time for charities. We’ve been thinking a lot about what a "Virtual Movember" will look like and events, activities, gatherings and ways to connect our community online this year that could make the month even more epic.

Through our Mayeight Festival here in Australia (May 8th, because it sounds like the word "mate" to Australians) we've already tried our hand at engaging our community through virtual music sessions, comedy gigs and meditation workshops. I remember being told when I joined Movember that "We are the roadies, our community are the rockstars," so that's what we will continue to do. We'll figure out how to get the show on the road and leave the rest to the community.

How do you think social distancing is affecting people's mental health when we know connections are so important?
I'm not a member of our mental health team, but I do work in an environment and organisation where mental health is an open conversation and something we are all passionate about. Movember's qualified mental health professionals and psychologists work in-house advise and lead many great projects and programs for us. They have been a huge inspiration at the moment and have been great in running internal workshops for staff and highlighting what we should be aware of in this new normal. Social connection were a major talking point regarding our own mental health. Since this whole pandemic has kicked off, a lot of the places where we connect such as the workplace, restaurants, sporting clubs, and, let's be honest, the pub, have all been off limits. We are all feeling it a bit down, but this will pass. I'm reminding myself that.

At Movember, we strive to empower people to connect with others who they think might need support. Doing the small things in times like these can make such a difference. A text to check in, a quick chat to ask how their day went or even better, a quick heckle at last year’s rubbish attempt at a moustache. That last one, we support very much.

This is why we’ve recently launched Movember Conversations, an online conversation tool developed by our mental health team. We spoke to men to find out what they’ve been struggling with and based on their feedback, developed three initial "conversation simulations" dealing with job loss, family issues and social isolation.

"Movember Conversations" provides a great way to build your conversation skills so that when the time does come, you feel confident helping everyone feel more connected.

What else might affect people's mental health during the crisis?
There has been a multitude of unexpected happenings in the past few weeks and months. It's put us all in new situations that we have had to navigate. Financial hardship or job loss. Trying to juggle family and work at home. Isolation and boredom. Many people have been stretched a bit lately. Physical activity is also immensely important for our mental health and that's even been curtailed as of late with the distance restrictions for some of us. Personally, I've tried to do a small bit most days. You just need to find your thing. I try to get out on my bike or what I like to call my "mental health machine". He also has a name though. It's Brendan. Don't ask.

Have you felt scared through this pandemic?
Change ignites a lot of emotions. For me fear wasn't one my main one. There was a concoction of confusion, uncertainty and anxiety at the start of  the Covid-19 outbreak. It was hard to know the extent of what was going on. But personally that eventually diluted down and has given way to a lot of gratitude. I count myself very lucky that my family and friends have seemed to have dodged any drastic effects of this pandemic. In Movember we also have a lot of staff who work in the health sector, including nurses. Looking at their bravery and sacrifice in the work they do every day has given me a lot of perspective and gratitude.

When the option to get home might be taken out of your hands, the magnetic pull of Ireland feels so much stronger

Does being Irish make a difference at the moment? 
I think being Irish means something everywhere. Maybe it's just in our DNA, but I feel like all the Irish abroad look out for each other. I know I have my little "Irish MOs" in work who are a massive support. I want to tell a little story that one of them told me. When the pandemic went down, she offered to do some shopping for an elderly woman in her area. When she arrived back and handed over the bags, the lady recognised her accent and said, "Ah you're Irish! You can always count on the Irish". Hearing that filled my chest with pride.

Is there anything you miss about Ireland at the moment?
I missed lots from my family to Irish people in general, and living physically close enough, just in case. If you asked me three months ago I would have said I also missed a good pint of plain. Now, what matters has shifted. When the option to get home might be taken out of your hands, the magnetic pull of Ireland feels so much stronger. There is no better place than Ireland in the summer, and the sun is beginning to shine again.