“There is a social expectation that men should just ‘deal with it’”

It’s time to take men’s mental health more seriously, writes Fraser Macdonald-Lister

Every 60 seconds, a man weighs his problems against his life, and chooses to forfeit the latter. Many people are blind to the horrific reality of men’s mental health problems. Something has to change, and that’s what the Movember Foundation is working towards.

I have suffered my own demons with mental health and continue to work through those issues today. At points, it has taken me to some very dark places. Juggling depression, social anxiety and low self-esteem with a challenging workload, I often choose to mask my feelings rather than share them with others. I have felt that a problem shared, far from a problem halved, is a problem multiplied into a burden on my friends and family.

Movember always strikes a chord with me because it highlights the social expectation that men should just ‘deal with it’ when it comes to problems, big or small. Although this idea is gradually being eroded, it is ingrained in our generation. Young men continue to grow up feeling as though being the man of the house or thick-skinned is imperative to their identity. I was 16 when my dad passed away, and I felt responsible for holding our house together: I thought I had to become the man of the house, that the best way forward was to tough it out, so that my mum would have one less thing to worry about, and so that I could do Dad proud by passing my exams.

In some respects, that was true: there were new responsibilities that I needed to take on, and immediate challenges to face. In other respects, it left an immeasurable hole where my memories of Dad, and the grief of losing him, should have been. While the Movember Foundation cannot deal with all these issues, it does provide support to men across the globe who are facing a similar predicament.

The Movember Foundation works to improve the terrifying figures regarding men’s health. Three in four suicides are committed by men, making it the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Every 45 minutes a man dies from prostate cancer. If detected early, there is a 98% chance of survival beyond five years, falling to 26% if left too late. Testicular cancer, which is also prioritised by the Foundation, is the most common cancer in men under 40. Though there is a 95% chance of survival upon detection, this is no comfort to the one man in 20 who won’t make it.

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The Movember Foundation is rallying to raise awareness of these staggering statistics. They foster international collaborations to advocate men’s health initiatives and build evidence to support them. Operating as an independent global men’s charity since 2003, the foundation also combats traditional notions of masculinity to improve male wellbeing. They dedicate each November to the campaign, mobilising the community of ‘MoBros’ and ‘MoSistas’ to raise funds and awareness for men’s health. With the goal to stop men dying too young, the charity prioritises the aforementioned core issues: prostate cancer, testicular cancer and poor mental health.

Not just confined to November, the foundation works year round in 21 countries to change the way that we think and act on men’s health, while investing to improve health services and systems provided to men. There is a profound lack of awareness and understanding regarding the prevalence of poor health in men, with stigma enshrouding this issue in silence. Due to the widespread conception of masculinity as ‘strong and stoic’, it is well evidenced that men are reluctant to discuss openly or take action on health issues despite the clear need to do so.

The Samaritans define masculinity as “the way men are brought up to behave and the roles, attributes and behaviours that society expects of them.” This notion ought to accept that men can feel overwhelmed or sad without compromising their masculinity.

With Movember’s arrival in Oxford, we have organised a number of events to fundraise for this fantastic cause. While many will grow a ’tache for charity this month, others filled our Frat Party club night at Fever. On 19 November, teams from each college will compete in the inaugural Movember Barber Shop Relay race, while our rowing community has begun setting sponsored sprint times for ‘Rowvember’.

The Movember movement has reminded me that I am not alone, and that my problems do matter. More than just raising money for men’s health, the foundation offers practical advice on its website, as well as growing new initiatives to make men feel safe to speak about their feelings. I am all for that, and while I have a way to go myself, I will advocate the cause as much as I am in need of it. We ought to acknowledge that men face different barriers with regards to health, which the Movember Foundation is working to identify and break down. By improving the general wellbeing of men we can help them to live happier, healthier and longer lives. Join us – together, we can stop men dying too young.

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