Who knew that growing a little hair on a man's upper lip could have a global impact on raising much-needed awareness about men's health? It all began humbly in 2003 as a jovial conversation in an Australian bar among good mates about the deserved return of the moustache and how it might help raise awareness for men's health. Now that "aha!" moment is credited with bringing very personal male health issues — such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and suicide prevention — front and center where they belong.
Every November it's also Movember, when the Movember Foundation's CEO Adam Garone encourages men, or "Mo Bros," to think about things they'd probably really rather not. He wants them to talk and take action to help themselves and others. Movember counts 5 million participants globally and has funded 1,200 projects globally, and that's just the beginning, he says.
You've probably seen a guy you know, previously clean-shaven, suddenly start to grow a moustache, a.k.a, striking 'stache or magnificent mo', this time of year. The reason: to raise awareness about and funding for a health crisis Garone says isn't being discussed nearly enough.
"Men are dying too young, before their time. We're taking action and we need your help," states the Movember mission. The goal: to reduce the number of men dying prematurely by 25 percent, by 2030. In fact, on average and globally, men die approximately six years earlier than women.
It's a guy thing
Garone has taken on one very big task and no way is he backing down, he told Health Central in a telephone interview. "We're trying to redefine masculinity. We want men to look after themselves, to seek help when they need it and to stop thinking, 'It'll be OK tomorrow or next week' when it won't."
The culture of being male in itself motivates the personae of toughness, strength, and being infallible, Garone says.
"Really, we need to be there for our children, grandchildren, and partners. Guys in their 20s and 30s think 'tomorrow' is so far off and it isn't."
He's out to change that mindset, and he's making giant strides.
"No other health promotion on this scale has achieved the results Movember has," Garone says. "We approach it all in a fun and irreverent way, encouraging men to get educated around their health and to get an annual checkup."
The Movember site makes it so easy to get up to speed on both prostate and testicular cancer — the latter encouraging guys to "Know Thy Nuts." With testicular cancer, he says, there's a 95 percent chance of survival, so there's just no reason not to get an early diagnosis.
"And remember that if prostate cancer is detected early, there's a 98 percent chance of survival beyond five years," says Garone.
He says it's a fallacy that men don't want to talk about "stuff."
"Actually we do want to," he says, and "Movember has built a bridge to have those conversations."
He thinks group moustache-growing provides a commonality for men to engage in fruitful shoulder-to-shoulder conversations. "We're conditioned to be strong, never to be vulnerable, and to be the provider. When we have conversations about our health, we can be better at all of that."
Many women seem to have no trouble doing this, avidly seeking out health information online and often prompting (note: we did not say "nagging”) their men to just go to the doctor. The Movember initiative offers opportunities for gals, or Mo' Sistas, to support their guys.
Mind that body
So, yes, other organizations do promote better men's health awareness, but Movember aims to differentiate itself, says Garone.
"Our holistic approach stresses the link between physical and mental health,” he says. “And it seems so few of us talk about the issue of men's suicide — and we want to bring it out of the shadows."
He wants boys and men to talk about it when they're having a drink or taking a walk, or when they're getting their hair cut.
"Movember is about creating more ways for men and the community to engage," he says. The organization's website notes that most men say they feel uncomfortable asking friends for help, but that men would be there for friends if they need them — it aims to close that gap. It also provides excellent, immediate resources for men facing mental problems, who feel they have nowhere to turn.
Movember isn't just a movement. It's a life-saver. Garone hopes this month will help motivate more men to take care of themselves or help a Mo' Bro do the same.
Right now, he wants men to get going — and growing!