The moustache—the organic male facial ‘ribbon’--is back again for the month of Movember (November).
And even though it has been 14 years since it first became the international symbol for the month to recognize men’s health, the moustache has taken a back seat to other symbols longer entrenched in the global calendar of campaigns. In fact, one would have a difficult time remembering the inception of the pink ribbon (1990) that is the worldwide image for breast cancer awareness, or the red ribbon (1991), the universal symbol of AIDS awareness and support for those living with HIV.
Identifying the moustache as a ‘ribbon’ to be taken seriously to promote awareness of men’s health issues has taken time to grow roots, but it has, indeed, grown stronger.
In 2003, the idea for Movember was the inspiration of a group of 30 men in Melbourne, Australia. The term Movember was born from the blending of the Australian colloquialism for moustache--‘mo’ with the month ‘November’. In 14 short years, the number of participants has grown to more than 4 million worldwide, raising over $559 million for male health issues.
Ask someone (who is not yet sporting a moustache) what Movember is all about and their response may be informed enough to answer ‘prostate cancer awareness’. Most of us, however, are still naïve to the fact that the movement actually embraces three branches of male health concerns: prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health issues.
In her blog for the HUFFPOST-US Edition, writer Julie Chen, M.D., explained that Movember impresses her as more than just a month to grow a hairy lip. “Something that really stands out for me . . . is the progress they’ve made with mental health,” she wrote.
This year, the push is even greater to recognize the third—and most easily overlooked--branch of the awareness campaign: the need to provide support and resources to men for care and assistance with their mental health.
Movember Foundation’s USA website clearly describes the mission of its mental health initiative, listing its quest that:
- Men and boys are mentally healthy.
- Those who experience mental health problems take action early and live lives free of stigma and discrimination.
Historically, depression, anxiety, and mental health issues were rarely discussed, especially by men. Thanks to Movember, more mental health resources are available for males of all ages. And the stigmas men have faced, causing them to brush aside or hide feelings of depression, anxiety or suicide are slowly dissolving.
Growing up in a society that believed boys do not cry makes it difficult for men to discuss their own mental health concerns, Chen wrote. “Whereas women can [express themselves] freely or are expected to talk about their feelings, it’s always been assumed that men can cure anything with a bottle of jack and a night out with the guys. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.”
The website for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), based in Maryland, recognizes that while many mental illnesses affect men and women alike, “men may be less likely to talk about their feelings and seek help”. In addition, NIMH explains that men exhibit very different symptoms than women when dealing with challenges to their mental health. By hiding emotions associated with depression or anxiety, for example, men may appear angry or aggressive when in actuality they are not. These indicators are very different from the sadness often associated with symptoms of female depression.
NIMH posts a lengthy list of male mental health warning signs and symptoms, including irritability, aggression, a need for drugs or alcohol, compulsive behavior, and suicidal thoughts.
On the Movember Canada website, sobering statistics are listed: “One in 10 Canadian men will experience major depression in the course of their lives. Three out of four suicides are men.”
In Canada too, male-specific helplines and apps are finally being established. One such helpline--Kids Help Phone: BroTalk, made possible through a partnership with Movember Foundation Canada, provides “male-specific” content and support for boys/youth to promote emotional health and wellbeing.
According to its website, BroTalk tools grew out of an effort to provide “youth with the support they need, in the way they need it most”. Information ranges from advice on relationships, bullying, substance use, sexual orientation and gender identity, suicide and self-injury, depression and sadness.
Interestingly, Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day in Canada first proclaimed in 2014, takes place not in the month of Movember, but annually on the Tuesday immediately preceding Father’s Day, during International Men’s Health Week.
Finally, ManTherapy.org was launched in 2012 with the aim of providing an innovation in men’s mental health resources. In a white paper written about the campaign’s beginnings, the co-founders’ aims from the outset were “to bridge to new ideas that help men reshape the conversation of mental health, . . . to cut through stigma and tackle issues like depression, divorce and suicidal thoughts head on”.
From small beginnings in Australia, the moustache has clearly done much to help normalize conversations about male mental health issues and also garner greater support for their physical health. For more information or to get involved, contact the Movember Foundation for your country.
Chen, J., M.D., (November 15, 2014). The Movember Momentum and You: How Mustaches Are Changing Men’s Health Beyond Cancer. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/julie-chen-md/the-movember-momentum-you_b_6155250.htm
JohnD., (April 11, 2017). Mental Health Awareness Day. Healthy Minds Canada. https://healthymindscanada.ca/mens-mental-health-awareness-day/
KidsHelpPhone.ca (Retrieved November 6, 2017). https://kidshelpphone.ca/basic-page/brotalk
ManTherapy ™: Outreach and Impact on Men’s Mental Health Program 18 Months After Launch. (Retrieved Novembe 6, 2017). http://mantherapy.org/pdf/White-Paper-Man-Therapy.pdf
National Institute of Mental Health. (Retrieved November 6, 2017). https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/men-and-mental-health/index.shtml