I have been working with Movember for nearly a decade and looking back, it is hugely encouraging to see how far we have come. I have seen Kiwis become more empowered to share their experiences with mental health and suicide, and while there is still so much to do, I am proud of the work we have done as a nation, to date. I believe the future is bright for the next generation, as long as we continue to have tough conversations about mental health.
Over the last nine years, I have seen how incredibly impactful real-life stories about mental health and suicide can be. Government policy, studies and research are important, but it is the human experience that brings this social and health issue to the forefront. We are reliant on Kiwis coming together to talk to each other and share their feelings, so that our country can better understand and empathise with one another.
Movember has recently launched an easy-to-use interactive online tool called Movember Conversations, that offers practical guidance on how to start a difficult conversation and support someone who is struggling.
While most of us know it’s important to have conversations to help others, there is still a lack of confidence and knowledge around how to approach sensitive topics. We hope that this tool will encourage people to have conversations with men they care about who might be going through a tough time.
Based on the successful R U OK?’s ALEC conversation framework (Ask, Listen, Encourage action, Check in) and guided by an international team of mental health experts, Movember Conversations is a free interactive digital tool that presents a number of scenarios relevant to today’s world, including job loss, social isolation and family pressures. It uses simulated conversations to explore and practise how anyone might navigate a difficult conversation with someone they care about.
Movember Conversations has been made available at a critical time for mental health and suicide. This year we have been faced with Covid-19, a pandemic which hasn’t just put our physical health at risk, but also our mental health.
Research has indicated that a third of our population will experience PTSD following Covid-19 and while we look forward to one day receiving a vaccine for this virus, sadly we cannot immunise against mental illness and prevent those of us who will suffer from it due to the pandemic.
However, we can support each other and do our bit to help others who are struggling. At Movember, we have been telling Kiwi men to get together with their mates and talk about what’s important in their lives; to stay connected to the people they trust and can be honest with.
As males, we’re generally not as comfortable as our female counterparts when it comes to sharing our feelings and our problems. Women are good at catching up with friends or family to talk about big issues, when they happen. Most of the time, us men prefer to talk shoulder to shoulder with our mates and it isn’t until the third or fourth conversation that it turns towards topics like work and relationship pressures or financial challenges.
Those are the key conversations we need to be having more of and we need to be having them earlier on. When we talk about the big problems in our lives, we can start problem solving and getting ahead of issues that can compound and become much more serious.
The challenges presented by Covid-19 and its consequences of physical distancing, job loss, financial stress and strain on relationships will be found in every corner of our community, they do not discriminate depending on age, gender, background, income, job title, or address.
But, thanks to the efforts we have made to date as a nation, we are in a better position to confront these challenges head on. We are working towards reversing some of the most concerning statistics together and to better prioritise our mental health and the mental health of our mates and family.
Covid-19 took away so many of the settings men felt most comfortable in, and some of the mental health practises we promote at Movember were no longer practical, like catching up with friends and family.
We couldn’t congregate at the local pub and we weren’t able to enjoy live sport together. A lot of men rely on their workplace as a source of connection or their farmgate or corner store, but we had to stay away to keep ourselves and our community safe.
A recent study by the Movember Foundation during April and May 2020 found that more than 1 in 5 men (23%) reported their mental health had worsened compared with before Covid-19, while 1 in 3 (30%) admitted they felt lonely more often.
The top five scenarios causing greater worry for men through this period were the health of vulnerable relatives (54%); getting sick (53%); job loss (49%); physical health and diet (43%); and having enough money for daily living costs (41%).
Older men are most likely to have experienced poorer social connection, with 60 per cent of men aged 45+ years reporting they feel less connected to their friends since the Covid-19 outbreak, compared with 48 per cent of men aged 18–24 years, and 46 per cent of men aged 25–34 years.
Dr Zac Seidler, Director of Mental Health Training at Movember, says, “These findings indicate that guys are hungry for connection and in need of support in these trying times.
“While we know these conversations can often feel uncomfortable or awkward, checking in on your mates and loved ones can make the world of difference. Don’t assume they don’t want to be bothered or don’t want to talk. Just making the call can go a long way.”
At Movember, our focus is on preventing Covid-19 from affecting the gains we have made and Movember Conversations is part of this effort. We are confident that most Kiwi’s acknowledge what a significant issue mental health is and they want to look out for their mates and increasingly themselves. But we need to bridge the gap between awareness and action by empowering men with knowledge and tools, and most importantly the confidence to have tough conversations.
Movember Conversations currently provides three conversation topics, including financial hardship and loss, work and family and lastly, isolation and boredom. We hope to continue to add to these so that we have conversation topics that can be applied to as many scenarios as possible, including different workplace settings, challenging life stages, stressful relationship and family conflicts, to help as many Kiwis as possible.
Mo Conversations can be found at conversations.movember.com