Grow your mo-jo
Millions of moustaches are about to sprout as men use their faces to raise the profile of their health during Movember. Lisa Salmon reports on a growing hair trend
Love them or hate them, moustaches will soon be adorning the faces of many more men, as they show their support for a unique men’s health campaign that’s taking over the month of November.
Now in its 10th year, Movember entices millions of men around the world, including celebrities Bear Grylls, Charley Boorman and Damian Lewis, to grow moustaches for 30 days to both increase awareness of men’s health issues and raise money for men’s health projects.
The campaign has a simple premise: men ‘donate’ their face to grow fuzz above the upper lip, known as a ‘Mo’, and ask their family and friends to sponsor their efforts.
Last year, more than 363,000 Mo Bros and Mo Sistas – as the men who take part and the women who support them are known – raised more than £26.9 million in the UK. Globally, £92 million has been raised.
The cash has been used to fund 560 worldwide projects raising awareness of and researching men’s health issues including prostate and testicular cancers and mental health.
Movember has funded vital research that has identified 27 types of prostate cancer and genome-mapped the disease, financed Prostate Cancer UK’s helpline and other UK projects, including an expert collaboration to ensure men receive the psychological and emotional support they need after prostate cancer treatment.
And, just as importantly, says Justin Coghlan (JC), one of the Movember founders, the campaign has also opened up millions of conversations about men’s health.
“The effect of people coming to us and talking about men’s health has been incredible,” he says.
“Our vision is to have an everlasting impact on men’s health – we want guys to have the conversation, and everyone in their lives to be talking about it.”
The idea for Movember came in 2003 when four men, including Coghlan, chatted in a pub in Melbourne, Australia, about what they’d look like with moustaches.
“It was a bit of fun,” remembers Coghlan. “We grew mo’s as a bit of a fashion thing, and to see what we’d look like.
“We were just four lads who liked to skate and surf, and we had nothing to do with health.”
That year, 30 men participated, but no money was raised. Because it was fun and sparked so many conversations, the men grew moustaches again the next year, with 450 participants raising 43,000 dollars for prostate cancer in Australia.
And the mo’s just kept on growing – now 1.1 million people get involved in Movember, in 21 countries.
“It was just to give a bit back to society. We thought the men’s health situation was bad, we wanted to improve it, and Movember grew from there,” says Coghlan, 40.
“Suddenly it’s taken over our lives. It’s incredible what’s happened, and we still pinch ourselves today.”
MOUSTACHES FOR MENTAL HEALTH
A quarter of people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health problem, with mixed anxiety and depression being the most common.
Yet although men are less likely to be treated for a mental health problem than women (17% compared to 29%), British men are three times more likely to commit suicide as women.
Coghlan explains that improving awareness about men’s mental health is part of the Movember campaign, for the first time in the UK this year, because it was the only condition that the four founders had experience of, through friends.
“We hadn’t had prostate or testicular cancers in our families, but we’d lost friends to suicide, and we thought there was such a stigma about mental health and suicide that we wanted to get people having a conversation about it, and help them understand that was OK.
“Men do tend to get on with it, not talk about health problems, and leave things to the last minute.
“But they’ve got a lot better at talking about health over the 10 years of Movember, which is great.”
Professor Steve Robertson, co-director of the Centre for Men’s Health at Leeds Metropolitan University, says men’s mental health is a key concern. He points out that although, contrary to popular belief, men do seek medical help for physical illnesses, they deal with mental health problems differently from women.
“This is where we see some of the biggest issues about the way males and females are raised and socialised – the idea that men are supposed to be strong, tough and not vulnerable,” he says.
“That doesn’t seem to be an issue in relation to physical symptoms, but it definitely is with regards to mental problems and wellbeing.
“Whereas a woman who feels a bit down might see her GP, if a bloke was feeling that way he wouldn’t even think about going to the doctor, because he has no physical symptoms.”
Special active projects which engage groups of men, like building a boat and gardening, can be very successful at encouraging men to eventually share their problems, he suggests.
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men aged between 15 and 45, with around 2,200 new cases a year. Only 7.5 men in every 100,000 will get testicular cancer, but while it has a 96% cure rate if found and treated early, around 70 UK men die from it per year.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men of all ages and is the second largest cause of male cancer deaths in the UK.
It’s much more common than testicular cancer, and more than 40,000 men are diagnosed every year. Yet despite the fact that one in eight men in the UK will develop prostate cancer, Movember campaigners point out that awareness and support for prostate cancer lags significantly behind that of women’s health causes.
If prostate cancer is in the family, a man is two-and-a-half times more likely to get it, says Coghlan, who stresses that, for both men and women, being aware of the family medical history has great value.
“One man dies of prostate cancer every hour in the UK, which is inherently wrong, so how do we change that?” he asks.
One key way is by raising awareness of prostate cancer symptoms, says Professor Robertson, who cites a survey published earlier this month by Saga Health Insurance which found that 40% of men aged over 50 didn’t know the symptoms of prostate cancer.
Professor Robertson says: “Men over 50 are the group that may show issues around prostate enlargement or prostate cancer, and many of them admit to not knowing the symptoms.
“But that figure would have been a lot worse 10 years ago, and some of the progress we’ve made is definitely due to Movember.”
He adds: “Movember has made a huge impact on the awareness of men’s health issues. It’s such a simple but effective campaign.”
PROSTATE CANCER SYMPTOMS
Movember warns that most prostate cancers have no symptoms, but advanced cancers that have spread throughout the prostate can cause symptoms including:
:: Slow urine flow that’s hard to stop.
:: Difficulty starting urine flow.
:: More frequent urination.
:: Need to urinate during the night.
:: Urgent need to urinate.
:: Blood in the urine or semen.
:: Reduced ability to get an erection.
:: Painful ejaculation.
Such symptoms are common to many different conditions, not just prostate cancer.
TESTICULAR CANCER SYMPTOMS
:: Testicular cancer commonly presents as a small hard lump.
:: There may be swelling or a change in the consistency of the testicle.
:: Some men also experience a dull ache in the testicle or lower abdomen.
:: In most cases, only one testicle is affected.
:: To sign up for Movember, visit www.movember.com
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