Movember helping men put their health front and centre

Campaign is playing key role in promoting men’s health but there is more work to be done

 

The chill is in the air, the leaves are on the ground – and suddenly every man seems to be sporting a moustache. And just at the moment when you begin to question the sudden fascination with upper-lip facial hair, you remember that it is Movember.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary in Ireland this year, Movember – short for Moustache November – has its origins in a pub conversation that took place in Melbourne, Australia in 2003, when a group of lads, lamenting the demise of the moustache, each resolved to grow one. Within two years, the idea became so popular among their friends that they decided to run it as a charity event highlighting men’s health issues.

Since then, Movember has become a global charity and campaign designed to highlight men’s health, particularly in relation to prostate cancer, as well as testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention. In doing so, the initiative hopes to help men live longer and improve their quality of life.

Get checked early

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in Ireland (after skin cancer), with nearly 3,500 men diagnosed each year. This means that more than 40,000 men in Ireland have had a prostate cancer diagnosis. If prostate cancer is caught early, most men survive – but many continue to avoid regular check-ups.

“A lot of men ignore the signs and symptoms in the first place, and present late to their doctor,” says Neil Rooney, Movember country manager for Ireland. “They then have a worse outcome just based on the fact that they’re doing that very Irish, very male thing of saying, ‘I’ll be grand and it will go away itself’. But literally, that is killing men.”

Retired career consultant Brian Herman (79) who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006, also emphasises the importance of getting checked. Due to early detection and effective treatment, he was able to treat the disease and just recently got the all-clear from his doctor.

Movember has played an important role in encouraging men to seek help, says the Dublin man and father of three, and he advises any man over the age of 50 to get tested.

“Movember does a lot of good work in focusing people’s attention on these issues, and helps make people aware of what’s there and what’s possible,” he says. “I know despite everything, I still have a few friends who still don’t bother doing anything about themselves.”

Changing the conversation

Movember, established in Ireland in 2008, has captured the Irish public’s imagination – more than 100,000 people have participated in the campaign – due largely to the fact that it taps into people’s desire to talk about men’s health in a new way, according to Mr Rooney.

“The moustache is essentially a trojan horse to open up often-ignored conversations about men’s health that otherwise were in the background,” he says.

“Ten years ago, when Movember began in Ireland, awareness around men’s health was very, very poor, and there was definitely an appetite out there for change in the way men’s health was being tackled by both the government and charities.

“So when we came along with a campaign that spoke to men in their language there was a real groundswell of people who stood up and said it isn’t acceptable the way men’s health is being treated.”

Since then, Movember has succeeded in bringing men’s health issues into the public discourse, according to Donal Buggy, head of services at the Irish Cancer Society, which partners with Movember.

“Movember has allowed men to talk, in particular, about the impact of a prostate cancer diagnosis and the challenges that brings, in a different way,” says Mr Buggy. “It has also captured the changing times, where now the patient’s voice is very important – it’s putting the man front and centre instead of the cancer front and centre.”

Movember has played an important role in encouraging men to seek help. Photograph: iStock
Movember has played an important role in encouraging men to seek help.

The girls are talking

It is from women, and their ability to have conversations about healthcare, that Movember has taken much inspiration.

“If you look at the incredible work that’s being done by women and the breast cancer movement over the years – the fundraising has been amazing, but it’s also the attitude,” says Mr Rooney.

“Women are open and honest and willing to talk about these issues, and great at having these conversations with each other, whereas men aren’t traditionally willing to engage in types of discussions.

“So we’ve tried to emulate the work that the women health movement has done, and to try to bring that same kind of attention to men’s health.”

Behind the scenes

Along with the highly visible fundraising that’s done each November, Movember works behind the scenes throughout the rest of the year, bringing together researchers from around the world who are investigating prostate cancer and other men’s health issues.

In Ireland, Movember has funded over 30 prostate cancer initiatives, in partnership with the Irish Cancer Society. This has included the funding of two prostate cancer nurses, one in Dublin and one in Galway, and financial grants for patients and their families, as well as the Irish prostate cancer outcomes registry, which was established in February 2014.

A lot done, more to do

But despite the success in opening up conversations about men’s health, there is still much work to be done.

Mr Buggy says the next steps include a dual focus on empowering men to make informed decisions, and on improving quality of life.

“We’re at the point now where the vast majority of men survive prostate cancer, but have had a poor quality of life,” says Mr Buggy.

“The future of prostate cancer is very much around empowering men with really good information which is evidence based and which allows them to make the decisions and take control of their treatment and their quality of life.”

Mr Rooney says Movember also wants to focus on men’s mental health, whether they are struggling with the knock-on effects of a cancer diagnosis and treatment – which can include insomnia, loss of energy and even an altered sense of taste, according to Mr Herman – or with other issues such as depression.

“We really need the ongoing support of men who want try to change the system, or women who want to support the men in their lives,” says Mr Rooney. “So we’re calling on men: if you’ve grown before, grow again and you haven’t done it before, this is the year to do it.”

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