Movember: Helping men to open up

Movember: Helping men to open up
Mo Bro and author John Connell, Neil Rooney and Jack O’Connor from Movember Ireland.

A Movember workshop aims to encourage guys to have real conversations about their health, says Helen O’Callaghan.

Last Friday evening, about 150 men turned up to The Well café bar near St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. They were there to have an honest conversation about men’s health, to talk about all aspects of being a man, including the stereotypical unhelpful ideas about what manhood is.The ‘SpeakEasy’ event was introduced by Movember Ireland and run by thought-leader Tom Harkin, alongside Justin Coghlan, co-founder of the Movember Foundation. It was the first time the workshop was done outside of Australia and prior to the event, Jack O’Connor, director of Movember Ireland, described himself as “super-excited” about it.Explaining the three-hour workshop was built with a “male lens” to encourage men to feel comfortable about having ‘real’ conversations about mental health, O’Connor says it was about “giving everyday men everyday pointers” as to how they can be there for a friend going through a tough time.

The reality is: for many guys, if a friend tells them ‘I’m going through a tough time’, they don’t know how to respond. Many men are really good at topic-jumping — when a friend says they’re having a hard time, they’re on the back foot, they’re hesitant and then they ask another question: ‘well, how’s work going?'

This, says O’Connor, is what the SpeakEasy event was aiming to address — not to turn men into psychotherapists but to teach ‘ordinary’ guys practical tools to effectively hold the space, to hang on in there, to ask real questions and to speak with gravity when their friend reveals he’s having it tough.Movember, the leading global men’s health charity, started in Australia in 2003 when two friends met up for a beer in Melbourne. The idea that sparked Movember was their brainchild: they noticed the moustache had practically disappeared from fashion trends and wondered could they bring it back. They found 30 guys willing to take on the challenge. By the following year, funds raised (including by moustache-growing endeavours) went to Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA). The idea spread globally and in 2008 Movember Ireland was officially launched in partnership with the Irish Cancer Society.“Many people know Movember for the moustaches we grow in November,” says O’Connor, emphasising the serious aim behind the drive. "Men die on average six years earlier than women, and for largely preventable reasons. “What we want is for men to live happier, healthier, longer lives.”
Movember or November men health awareness month poster or banner of blue ribbon.no shave symbol for social solidarity Movember event against man prostate cancer campaign.
Movember or November men health awareness month poster or banner of blue ribbon.no shave symbol for social solidarity Movember event against man prostate cancer campaign.

Movember’s focus is on tackling a troublesome three-some that sabotage men’s health, blight their happiness and often shorten their lives— prostate cancer, testicular cancer and poor mental health/suicide.

O’Connor points to the stats that should motivate us to get behind Movember. Prostate cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Irish men, after skin cancer — one in seven men here will be diagnosed with it.

Over 3,400 new cases are diagnosed annually and more than 30,000 men are living with it, or in its aftermath. If you catch prostate cancer early, you have 93% chance of surviving past five years — if you catch it late, those chances drop to 26%.

While prostate cancer generally strikes men from age 45-50, testicular cancer is the most common cancer in 15 to 35-year-old men.

“There’s a high survival rate, but one in 20 men don’t survive. We want to get to a stage where no man dies from it,” says O’Connor.

Statistics around men’s mental ill-health and suicide are stark. Men represent eight out of every 10 suicides in Ireland. And every minute around the world, we lose a man to suicide — about 500,000 men a year.

For O’Connor, it’s about creating a culture where men feel comfortable opening up, whether with their friend or in their doctor’s surgery. “When we first started looking at prostate cancer, we realised we needed to get men to go to their doctor and to engage in their health.

Men don’t like going to the doctor and when they do they don’t explain the full extent of their symptoms. Men are good at putting their head in the sand and hoping it’ll all go away.

When it comes to mental health issues, way too many men are suffering in silence, says O’Connor, who points to something he observed while walking through town one evening recently after work. In a café bar with about 15 tables, “10 of the tables were pairs of women catching up for a chat, a few others were couples — male/female — but there wasn’t one table with just a couple of guys catching up for a chat”.

We need to change this culture, he says, so guys can feel comfortable meeting up to talk about real stuff.

Over the past decade-plus, Movember Ireland has developed over 30 men’s health programmes in Ireland and raised over €10m.

The organisation works very closely with Irish Cancer Society (ICS), helping fund ICS cancer research projects.

An example is IPCOR (Irish Prostate Cancer Outcomes Research), which Movember Ireland funds with ICS.

Movember’s focus is on tackling a troublesome three-some — prostate cancer, testicular cancer and poor mental health. Photo: iStock.
Movember’s focus is on tackling a troublesome three-some — prostate cancer, testicular cancer and poor mental health. Photo: iStock.

“It’s a national effort with 17 hospitals to improve the level of care for men by collecting information on all the newly-diagnosed cancer patients in Ireland so we can find out what treatments are performing and which are best for fighting prostate cancer,” explains O’Connor.

Again with ICS, Movember Ireland funds two CASE (Care, Advice, Support, Educate) prostate cancer specialist nurses.

“They support the patient from point of diagnosis all the way through, helping them navigate side-effects, treatments and emotional side-effects. They make a world of difference to the men they work with.”

O’Connor joined Movember Ireland in 2014, though he’d taken part since 2011, growing a moustache each year with friends. Now aged 28, he says a lot of men his age have that “invincibility factor” and don’t take their health too seriously.

“Being involved with Movember Ireland has given me a great appreciation for the magnitude of the impact of looking after my own health. Really, the sooner you engage the better, and prevention is better than cure.”

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