Words by Marianne Garcia
Content Warning: Suicide
Movember began 20 years ago when two mates, Travis Garone and Luke Slattery, met up in a bar in Melbourne, Australia. After a few beers, the topic of 70s fashion was brought to light. The friends acknowledged that despite the fact that many 70s trends were making a comeback, the moustache, was not amongst those trends, with clean-shaven looks becoming increasingly more popular.
The friends decided to set a challenge for themselves; to bring the moustache back. They did not embark on this hairy journey alone. In fact, they were joined by thirty other guys who willingly took up this challenge.
The friends were inspired by the women around them and all that they were doing to help fight breast cancer. This led them to the life-changing decision in 2004 to make moustache-growing during the month of November not just a fun challenge, but to get participants growing for a cause.
Research revealed that prostate cancer was the male equivalent of breast cancer in terms of how many men are diagnosed with it and who die from it. As a result, a campaign was created in support of men’s health, specifically prostate cancer. Thus, Movember was born. The concept was simple. Begin the month of November clean-shaven, donate money, and grow a moustache, all with the aim of raising awareness (and funds) for men’s health issues.
By 2005, over 9,000 participants of Movember, also known as ‘Mo Bros’, raised $1.2m for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. But the Mo bros were far from finished, and the Movember foundation continued to expand every year.
Presently, Movember focuses on four critical areas concerning men’s health: prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and suicide prevention. Male suicide rates are alarmingly high. In the UK, three out of four deaths by suicide are men, and in England and Wales, suicide is the leading cause of death among men aged 20-34. Movember is constantly working towards changing this, focusing on early intervention through mental health and suicide prevention programmes in the UK and across the world.
Movember aims to address issues of men’s health on a global scale. They have established campaigns in 21 countries and have altogether raised more than $730m which has been put towards the development of over 1,000 men’s health programmes.
The Mancunion sat down with Milan Cabrnoch, a Medicine student and former Student Ambassador for Movember, in the academic year 2022-2023, to learn more about the impact that the Movember foundation has had on men’s health issues, as well as find out about some of the work Milan did for this cause during his time as Student Ambassador. I first asked Milan if there were any specific factors that inspired his decision to apply for student ambassador.
“To be honest it was a bad time in my life, and I wanted to do something about it – and why not help others who are in that spot as well – or even much worse spots,” he said. “The year prior I had done it [Movember] with my American football team, the Manchester Tyrants, so that’s how I actually got the offer.”
As Ambassador, Milan’s job was to organise fundraising for Movember across Manchester, whilst also motivating as many people around campus as possible to get involved in the cause. “We all got shaved, grew our moustaches, and tried to raise money.”
Last year the Manchester Tyrants alone raised £910 for Movember. They weren’t the only ones that took part. Thirteen other UoM sports clubs and societies also jumped on the bandwagon and threw events for the cause. Altogether, the 14 sports clubs and societies that participated raised £17,488.
Don’t want to grow a moustache (or can’t)? That’s okay. And now that November is coming to an end, there are plenty of other ways to support the charity, all of which are outlined on the Movember website. A number of options are available to choose from. There’s running or walking (60km for the 60 male suicides that take place every hour globally) for the more active ‘Mo bros’ and ‘Mo sisters’.
However, if this idea doesn’t exactly bring you joy, you also have the option to host a ‘Mo-ment’. A fun event of your choice with the goal of raising funds for men’s health.
If neither of these ideas appeal to you – perhaps you can’t grow a moustache, or you’re a massive introvert, or both – there is always the option to ‘Mo your own way’. In other words, choose your own challenge that best suits your personality and your abilities.
In order to prepare for his role as student ambassador for Movember last year, Milan undertook a training course in London where he discovered that the Movember foundation “not only just pass the money onto someone who does the research,” Milan explains, but “they oversee it and make sure that it aligns with what they want to research and with what people are giving their money for. That just showed me a lot of integrity from them”.
The Movember movement has helped to combat men’s health issues by funding research and countless support programmes, whilst at the same time creating a space for men to come together, share their personal stories, to talk, to listen, and to know that they are not alone. The last two decades have seen a huge breakthrough in the time and effort that is put into spreading awareness for men’s health issues. Nevertheless, I asked Milan why, in so many cases, does there still seem to be a stigma surrounding men’s health, particularly men’s mental health?
“That’s a tough question” he replied. “I think it’s the way society is set up…and I can’t really change that but what I really hope we can do in the future and what I think everyone can do is learn how to communicate more openly.”
Opening up to friends and family can seem incredibly daunting. The Movember website also provides resources that aim to teach people how to communicate with a friend about mental health. It takes you through steps and scenarios that demonstrate helpful phrases that you can use in real-life conversations. It can be a useful tool for someone who needs guidance and a bit of confidence to make that first move and reach out to someone.
It’s not unusual to feel hopeless when we suspect a friend is going through a problem that we cannot solve for them. I asked Milan for his opinion on what we, as individuals, can do to make a positive impact on someone who may be silently suffering, whether it’s a friend or a stranger.
“Donate, please, if you can, and talk to your mates. Try to summon the courage to […] If you don’t think you can help directly, at least mention that they should get help. There’s so many amazing services that you can look up or that the university provides […] so little can change so much.”
The University of Manchester offers a range of mental health services for students and staff who may be struggling with something. This includes face-to-face counselling appointments or online support for those who find it hard to talk. The University website provides advice on who to call for urgent support in a crisis, whether it is for you or for someone else you may be worried about. You will also find contact details for numerous organisations and helplines active 24 hours a day and 365 days of the year.
Further resources are available at:
https://www.gmmh.nhs.uk/ or you can call the 24/7 NHS Mental Health Crisis Helpline: 0800 953 0285