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‘There is a message behind every strand of hair’ – the importance of Movember

Movember is an annual event during the month of November that raises awareness of men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s suicide. In this blog Dr Jon Van Niekerk, Group Clinical Director, writes about the importance of Movember and why he will once again be growing a fresh moustache over the course of the month.

The moustache is back.

Once again I will be taking part in Movember, an annual event during the month of November which raises awareness of men’s health issues, both physical and mental. It aims to put a spotlight on issues such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer but also men’s mental health, including the high rate of male suicide.

It has become somewhat of an annual tradition for me to grow a moustache, I couldn’t imagine not being part of the movement now. Growing a moustache is a way of taking a small step to raise awareness. Movember gives us that incredible platform to highlight issues relevant for men and to encourage them to come forward and ask for help, something we know can be notoriously difficult for men to do.

The handle bar, the horse shoe, the chevron – these are all types of moustache we’ve fashioned over the years. I’m still not sure what I’ll opt for this time round.

However, beyond the camaraderie and the fun, it is about making sure there is a message behind every strand of hair. The message is very serious and one I feel passionate about supporting every year. While there’s heaps of fun in wearing a fancy moustache, it’s about starting those conversations about men’s cancers and mental health and suicide prevention – bringing that recognition to the forefront of everybody’s mind. “Growing a Mo” is a symbol for better men’s health. It grabs attention and starts important conversations. So I do hope many of my colleagues across Cygnet join me and give it a go – it shows the world you stand for healthier men and a healthier world.

It is alarming how many men struggle with their mental health, but struggle in silence. By growing a moustache, we aim to start conversations to encourage men to speak out, get support and realise that they are not alone in their battles. Men’s health is in crisis. Men are dying on average 4.5 years earlier than women, and for largely preventable reasons. A growing number of men – around 10.8million globally – are facing life with a prostate cancer diagnosis.

Globally, testicular cancer is the most common cancer among young men. And across the world, one man dies by suicide every minute of every day, with males accounting for 69% of all suicides. Movember is a time for men across the world to unite to tackle these debilitating issues and to come together to help more men live healthier, happier and longer lives.

It’s so easy to get involved. Like me, you can grow a moustache to raise awareness but women can take part too by getting involved in “Make a Move” for Movember – walking, running, or participating in any physical activity over 60 kilometres during the month. This is 60km for the 60 men we lose to suicide each hour globally.

Movember’s mission is to reduce the rate of male suicide by 25% by 2030, and each year I want to say I was a part of the movement in achieving this. We all face difficulties in life, it’s part of being human. Movember represents the ability to bring everyone together. It reinforces that no one is alone and that together we can do better.

It may be hard to correlate growing a moustache with tackling such serious issues, but the key thing is that it kick-starts a conversation. Who knows where that conversation can lead – perhaps it will ultimately save a life. Men can be guilty of bottling things up and this can escalate and those around them do not always know they are going through a difficult period. Anything that opens the door just a little bit to encourage men to open up, to realise there are brothers in arms standing alongside them, is well worth our time.

The conversations that I hope to start come from me trying to make myself available. My phone is always on for any of my friends, colleagues, family, or whoever may need to chat. I hope the change that Movember brings to men’s lives is that men begin to value their health as much as they would one of their loved ones. To put themselves in the same category as a loved one, a family member or friend, and go to the doctor or speak to someone if and when they may need it.

My advice to any of my male colleagues who may be going through a difficult time is to invest in your emotional capital. These can be simple steps like eating healthily, going to the gym, socialising with friends and avoiding social media. Small steps can have a big impact. Looking after yourself is a decision. All of us are worth that self-investment.

To those who have men in your lives who may be struggling, my easiest suggestion is to ‘ask twice’. The question: ‘How are you?’ will often be met with the response: ‘Fine’. But asked a second time: ‘No, how are you really?’ may open up more of a dialogue. Encourage a conversation, actively listen and highlight the changes you have noticed. Do engage with your loved ones GP too if you have serious concerns about their health.

The Cygnet family has always been very supportive and plenty of my colleagues have joined me over the years in my efforts to make a real difference.

Each moustache is a beacon, urging men to prioritise their health, to open up about their struggles and break the chains of stigma associated with mental health.
Here’s to another month of the ‘tache, conversations and championing men’s health, let’s make a difference together.

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