By Dom Gommo
I’m sure by now most of you are familiar with the idea and message of Movember; grow a moustache to start conversations about men’s mental and physical health, namely prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention.
With over 3.5 billion men all at risk, both cancer types on the rise and suicide at an all-time high, something needs to be done. While the main goal is to get people talking, the Movember Foundation, like any charity, accepts donation. The funds raised go towards research projects to aid men before, during and after treatment, providing the support they need and reducing the negative impacts. The money is also used to provide engagement projects for men around the world to help them better understand what can and should be done to change the way that we think about our health and that of others.
With over 3.5 billion men all at risk, both cancer types on the rise and suicide at an all-time high, something needs to be done
The purpose of all this awareness raising is not only to make people thoughtful of their personal health, but also to end the stigma surrounding talking about one’s own health. The reason men’s health is in crisis is because these issues have been overlooked, ignored and kept quiet by those suffering for too long. If one of your mates starts acting differently, it may be a sign that they are struggling, invite them for a chat and make sure you listen to what they have to say. Equally, don’t be afraid to asks your mates for help in times of need, that is what they are there for. It is a joint responsibility of us all to ensure no man is left behind to fight their battles alone.
As I sit here writing this, I am reminded just how difficult it can be to translate emotions into words. I haven’t needed to for a long time, for all the right reasons. Like many young men, I have big ups and big downs and have fought, and continue to fight, my demons.
The issue is that these demons manifest themselves differently for everyone, and some lads don’t always find the up that they need, persistently trapped in circumstance and enveloped by a mental prison. You can’t just ‘man up’ or ‘get over it’, and hope on the horizon can seem very far away. Some withdraw from social activity, while some turn to substance abuse or erratic and dangerous behaviour. In many cases, this is a cry for help.
I can speak from my own experience by saying that when you’ve been to the edge, everything else gets put into perspective. Realising that I had a problem(s) was the first step in a very long, but uphill, journey to self-acceptance. Fortunately for me, by the time that I needed to, through awareness raising campaigns like Movember and the recent surge in attention to mental health, I knew that I could speak to my friends. I’m sure most of them are unaware of the fact that the random messages and in some cases their mere existence helped pull me back. I am extremely grateful for the support that I knew I had, even if those responsible didn’t know what was going on with me.
I had always been a man of few words, but it became apparent time and time again that silence doesn’t solve anything. It turns out drinking doesn’t solve anything either. Unfortunately, not every guy feels they can reach out, and this is what the Movember Foundation is hoping to change. Slogans like ‘Be a man of more words’ or ‘Talking saves lives’ sound great in a slick video, or in bold white font on a black background, headed by the distinctive, angular Movember ‘Mo’, but in reality, people often fail to recognise the importance and impact that a few words can have. Simply inviting someone for a chat or sending them a message can start a conversation, and reassure those who are having a tough time that they are cared about.
It is much more than just a moustache
Consumed by the notions of worthlessness, hopelessness and a loss of personal control, the second and third years of university became a challenge. I was aware of the professional and medical routes that could be taken to fix my problems but like too many men was held back by the cultural pressure and my own self-image. I had a reputation to uphold, and in my own, self-imposed adherence to the dangerous cultural norms of modern masculinity, wanted to be an independent, self-reliant and strong bloke. I couldn’t admit vulnerability to myself let alone my family and friends and the very thought of being perceived as weak terrified me.
You may be expecting me to have had some pivotal moment or grand revelation that turned it all around. Sorry to disappoint. I cannot speak for everyone, but with time and exposure to positive material and the right information, things have started to look up. It took me far too long to acknowledge that facing my problems made me ‘no less of a man’.
It is for this reason that I got involved with the charity and I am so eager to spread the word about Movember and the foundation’s goals and beliefs. Perhaps the most important message for young lads my age is that we must collectively forget the societal expectation that boys and men must be tough, it has cost far too many young men their lives. Don’t be scared to speak up, there is absolutely no shame or weakness in it at all. As we approach the end of the month, take a MOment to remember what Movember is about.
Photo credit: Kristie Kam via Behance