Despite the success of the Movember campaign, men now more than ever need to heed the message and go for a check up, says Arlene Harris.
DESPITE living (on average) six years less than women, men are traditionally less inclined to seek help with medical worries.
They are also more susceptible to chronic disease and poor mental health — eight out of every 10 suicides in Ireland are male.
So it’s fair to say that men need to be more proactive when it comes to their health and wellbeing.
Now in its 12th year, Movember is the annual campaign aimed at helping men face up to the many issues which affect their health — physical and mental.
The Movember community has funded over 1,000 men’s health projects across the areas of prostate and testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention.
Jonathon Forbes from Dublin is just one of the many thousands of men growing moustaches this month to raise funds for the campaign.
In his personal life and through his line of work, the firefighter has had experience of mental health issues, cancer and suicide and knows how important it is to support the campaign.
“This charity creates awareness for all aspects of men’s health,” he says.
“Cancer and mental health are two of the biggest challenges firefighters come up against, so it was a no-brainer to get involved.
“I’ve attended firefighters funerals who have taken their own lives, have seen colleagues battle cancer (68% of firefighters will develop the disease), some winning and many losing.
“So it’s important both for myself and future members of the brigade to help create a support network and a possible cure to certain cancers in the future.
“Initially I joined Movember as a solo participant and in 2012 was given permission to create a team for the brigade and have been the team captain ever since.”
According to the Movember Foundation, men’s health is in crisis.
Recently Pieta House reported that of the 451 people who lost their lives to suicide in Ireland in 2015, 375 of these were men.
“Often these tragedies are from causes which are preventable through relatively minor lifestyle or behaviour changes, like regular health checks, more exercise or talking about the important stuff going on in their lives,” says a spokesperson.
“We want men to live happy and healthy lives — to get themselves checked out, to get moving and get talking.”
Forbes, who is married and has a young son, agrees and says people in his profession need to be particularly aware of their mental health.
“I joined the brigade at a young age with very little life experience,” says the 35-year-old.
“But some of the things I saw during my first few years will live with me throughout my life, from multiple deaths on the road to cot deaths.
“While these images will never go away, I had kept them locked away.
“But I was attacked in 2006 — an unopened beer bottle struck me in the face and went off like a grenade — and suffered chipped bones, concussion and had to get 40 stitches in my face.
“This caused all of the old memories to flood back and I ended up with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The symptoms were numerous and random: an inability to sleep, recurring nightmares, poor concentration, lack of appetite and hypersensitivity.
“I received counselling but peer support from fellow firefighters, in particular, my own crew, was the main cure in the end. So while I am not 100% over it, I have learned to deal with it. Identifying and talking about issues is so important. And this is another area in which the Movember campaign is really helpful.”
He got involved with the charity in 2010 and while he and his colleagues have been growing ‘mos’ every November, they have added another element to their campaign.
“This year we are doing something different,” he says.
“So instead of each agency having their own team we have come together as the ‘Frontline Mo-Bros’ and have invited members of any emergency service to take part and raise all of our efforts together to create as much drive and force behind our fundraising as possible.
“We hope the end result will be a multi-agency emergency services open day in Phibsboro Fire Station on the 27th November from 11am where we will have demos, vehicles and equipment on display, CPR and bandaging training for the public.”
The Movember Foundation undertakes independent research every two years to confirm that the awareness and education programme is achieving its goal of increasing the understanding of the health risks men face and empowering them to act on that knowledge.
The results from the last survey (conducted in 2015, with more than 2,000 participants) showed that as a result of the 2014 Movember Foundation awareness and education programme 99% of participants talked to someone about their health and 71% had seen or were intending to see a medical professional to get their key personal numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, waistline, weight).
The most recent figures from the National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI) show that in 2013, a total of 3,213 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer and a total of 154 men were diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Early detection is vital and Dr Robert O’Connor, head of research at the Irish Cancer Society says it is important for men to understand from a young age the need to be open about health issues.
“If boys are told to ‘man up’ or ‘be tough’, it can be very difficult for them to accept they may be ill and it’s OK to ask for help,” he says.
“It’s really important to challenge this social construct of masculinity and present boys with healthy male role models and opportunities for boys and men to reflect and understand how this view of “what it is to be a male” can affect their health and wellbeing.”
A healthy diet can reduce your risk of cancer, he continues. “To maintain a healthy diet and a healthy weight, it’s advisable to eat a balanced diet based on the food pyramid.
“Research has shown that fat cells release hormones which are linked with a higher risk of cancer, so physical activity can also help reduce your risk and everyone should aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day.”
Risk factors for prostate cancer include family history, race, diet and age while those at risk for testicular cancer may have had fertility problems, mumps, family history or undescended testicles.
Even though symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer, Dr O’Connor, says it is advisable to get any health worries checked by a doctor.
“Most testicular cancers are curable,” he assures.
“If they are found early, they can be treated very easily so early detection is vital.”
In Ireland, men often struggle to address important health issues, shying away from discussing health problems like prostate cancer, testicular cancer or mental health issues.
“The goal of Movember is to give a voice to survivors, sufferers, carers, health professionals, fundraisers, families and friends — all of whom have an important piece of the wider story to share — to raise awareness of, and get people talking about, prostate cancer, testicular cancer and men’s health issues.”
This month the Movember movement wants men all over the country to take action — sooner rather than later.
Men’s health: fact file
* On average men die six years earlier than women.
* For every 10 suicides in Ireland, eight of them are by men. The World Health Organisation estimates that 510,000 men die from suicide globally each year, that’s one every minute.
* Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, with one in eight Irishmen being diagnosed in their lifetime and the number of cases expected to almost double globally to 1.7 million cases by 2030.
* Most recent figures from the National Cancer Registry Ireland show in 2013, 3,213 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer and 154 men were diagnosed with testicular cancer
* An estimated 307,000 men will die from prostate cancer around the world this year.
Experts consider 30% of cancers are preventable through lifestyle changes.
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