In 2003, two mates from Melbourne, Travis Garone and Luke Slattery, were having a quiet beer at the Gypsy Bar in Fitzroy when their conversation turned to recurring fashion trends – yet the humble moustache, a fixture in past decades, was nowhere to be seen.
They joked about bringing it back, then decided to talk their mates into growing some good old-fashioned facial hair. Inspired by a friend’s mum who was fundraising for breast cancer, they made their mo mission about raising awareness of men’s health and prostate cancer and agreed to charge $10 dollars for men to participate – inadvertently designing the rules of Movember, which are still in place today. Travis whipped up the first Movember logo and sent out an email titled ‘Are you man enough to be my man?’ They found 30 guys willing to take up the challenge, and so Movember began.
I first participated in Movember while on my OE in London in 2006, and later began working as the Country Manager for Movember New Zealand in 2011. During this time, I suppose I have assisted in the production of over 100,000 moustaches and every one of them (however offensive) has acted as a crucial tool to help men start a conversation about men’s health. This might sound simple, but getting men to talk and then take action is tough. Traditional masculine stereotypes mean that men can feel pressured to suck it up and ignore their problems during a tough time.
Studies suggest that men are more likely to put off seeing their doctor when they have a health issue than women. I lost my grandfather to skin cancer when he 68, I was 23 – it was devastating. However, being young and naïve, I also remember thinking he’d lived a long life and achieved a lot, but the reality is we lost him far too early. He had worked extremely hard his whole life, he was the rock of our family and deserved to go to my wedding, watch my twin boys on the rugby field and play numerous rounds of golf with me and my brothers, while imparting knowledge from his life of achievement that would help shape us as men. But these things never happen for grandad because he was stoic. He didn’t want to fuss and presented late when the outcomes are always far worse. We lost him in a matter of weeks and it is always a reminder to me that what you do now can give you miles on the clock, and afford you a long life with to enjoy the company of others close to you because that is something almost every person I know wants.
In 2008, the Movember Foundation New Zealand began advocating for and funding mental health and suicide prevention programmes. Unlike cancer, while unbelievably tragic, there is often the ability to prepare for loss, but with suicide it is sudden, almost always leaves questions unanswered, and family and friends look to themselves, asking the question, ‘What could I have done?’
New Zealand men are famous for keeping their cards close to their chest, not giving anything away, and holding their emotions at bay. But this is a problem, because in New Zealand, three out of four Kiwi’s that take their lives are men. The situation is dire. Interestingly, the majority of statistics associated with mental health are similar today as they were in 2008, but what has changed significantly are the attitudes and behaviours of New Zealanders towards mental health.
I have been the Country Manager for Movember New Zealand for over 8 years, and in my first few years in the role, very few individuals or organisations identified mental health and suicide prevention as their motivation for growing a moustache. But today, there has been a significant shift in acknowledging mental health as a real issue – and what has been so encouraging is the weight of support and desire to help.
Organisations like Movember, other charities, health professionals and advocates have a huge role to play in improving mental health issues in our country, but the reality is that this issue lives in our homes, our workplaces, our sports clubs and our schools. Giving men the tools to help themselves and their friends in places they are comfortable – and in a language – they understand must be at the core of what we do.
Knowing how to be mentally fit from a young age and to understand the importance of forming strong male friendships can help boys develop resilience, embrace challenges, make decisions under pressure and cope better with the challenges that they will face in life, and ultimately, allow them to lead healthier, happier lives.
At Movember we have one goal – to stop Kiwi men dying too young. During Movember, we ask people to sign up at Movember.com and register to either GROW a moustache, MOVE for your health and for others or HOST an event, or in some cases a combination of all. Over time, I have seen the power of the moustache, the conversations we are having and most importantly the behavioural change in men, which is so hard to develop, but it is happening. If the community does any of the following, we are having success:
- Spend time with people who make you feel good and who you trust.
- Talk more. You don’t need to be an expert and you don’t have to be the sole solution, but being there for someone, listening and giving your time can be lifesaving.
- Know your numbers, know your family history, know your risk and talk about it with your doctor.
- Know thy Nuts. Get to know what’s normal for your testicles. Give them a check regularly and go to the doctor if something doesn’t feel right.
- Move more. Take the stairs, walk the dog, play with the kids, anything – just keep moving.
While the challenges are significant, I truly believe we are at a time where we can continue to sustainably improve the lives of fathers, sons, brothers and our mates in this country. It is time to change the conversation from how bad the issues are to what we can do about it. While we collectively don’t have all the answers, we have to make sure that we continue to nurture a conversation around men’s health where strength is seen as talking, taking action, and looking out for our family and friends.