Why Movember's About So Much More Than Growing A Mustache

"We stand for improving quality of life ... and working collaboratively to create change in the world."

For many, Movember's nothing more than an excuse to grow a mustache. But, for the Movember Foundation, this annual campaign serves as the culmination of an active year-round effort to raise awareness for men's health issues, and the preventative programs and initiatives that lead to improvements in mental and physical wellness.

"We stand for improving quality of life, preventing suicide in men, helping men take action, and working collaboratively to create change in the world," Susan Todd, director of U.S. Mental Health and Suicide Prevention at the Movember Foundation, tells A Plus. "The Movember Foundation strategically invests in research, health services, and online resources that focus on both reducing the number of deaths related to prostate and testicular cancer, and improving the quality of life of men and those who support them."

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Todd explains that these programs aim to reduce the physical and mental health side-effects of diagnosis and treatment for prostate and testicular cancer. The Movember Foundation funds programs that deal with everything from cutting-edge imaging technology (PSMA imaging) that creates a more targeted plan for treatment, to quality of life programs, such as helping couples deal with sexual health/recovery and intimacy during and after prostate cancer treatment.

"The Movember Foundation achieves this by working with the world's leading experts along with men and their families to create initiatives and programs that lead to long lasting change and impact to improve care and quality of life. Some of these resources for men can be found at https://us.truenth.org for prostate cancer and https://truenth-tc.org/ for testicular cancer," Todd adds.

Overall, the Movember Foundation actively works to spread awareness about testicular cancer, which remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer in young men across the country. The Movember Foundation also supports prostate cancer research, as approximately 160,000 men were diagnosed in 2018 alone. As the second most common cancer among men, prostate cancer affects 1 out of 9 men, with 29,000 dying from the disease this year. Beyond cancer, the Movember Foundation also works to raise mental health awareness and support suicide prevention, as 75 percent of the suicides across the U.S. are committed by men.

"The Movember Foundation is dedicated to working towards a world where men take action to be mentally healthy and well, and are supported by their friends, family and community during tough times. Globally, the Movember Foundation has provided approximately $140 million for more than 130 projects focused on men's mental health," she explains. "In the U.S., the Movember Foundation is helping to improve mental health through an upstream, preventive approach. Disconnection and isolation — from community, peers, family, children, and culture — are major factors that undermine men's mental health. Restoring and strengthening these social connections is essential for building well-being and resilience." 

To address this, the Movember Foundation partnered with the Prevention Institute to fund the Making Connections program, which impacts 14 different communities across the U.S. in a variety of ways. The initiative emphasizes community-led programs that underscore the importance of mental health and social connections, and their link with community well-being. While each site has designed and implemented very different projects, all are focused on building partnerships and implementing preventive, community-based strategies designed to improve the mental health and well-being of men and boys across the country.

In Kankakee, Illinois, for instance, Making Connections contributed to the development of a fully operational veterans' center on campus at Kankakee Community College, and contributes to the implementation of a program for veterans which supports veterans to build connections, community, and conversation through photography.

In Canton, Connecticut, Making Connections works to reduce suicide by decreasing veterans' isolation, destigmatizing mental illness, building resilience in boys and men, and creating safe spaces for veterans and their families. They offer a variety of programs for veterans and their families, including a peer-to-peer mentoring program, suicide prevention training, and a post-traumatic stress disorder therapy dog. These opportunities have created a sustainable environment which has reduced veteran isolation, increased access to services, and improved overall awareness and understanding of the unique issues veterans and their families face every single day.

The Nebraska Association of Local Health Directors has also begun working with rural veterans across the state to better meet the needs of veterans by providing staff training and implementing organizational, local, and statewide policies that address the strengths and needs of service member and veteran families. This project helps communities to better support veterans and families throughout rural Nebraska, positively impacting thousands of veterans and their families statewide. 

"The majority of the sites have components that include or focus on youth. For example, in Hawaii, partners are focusing on mental health and well-being through a youth leadership development program that is training young people to be leaders and role models in their community," Todd says. "Not only are these young men learning about who they are, but they are also creating the space to positively impact and engage other young people in the community. The project is reaching young men in a place where they naturally gather — at KVIBE — Kahili's local bicycle exchange where young men come together to socialize and learn how to repair bikes."

In San Diego, the coalition of partners has created a peer-led space for young men and boys to gather, connect, build skills, and foster relationships with each other and their community. The project is nurturing a new generation of young leaders — in some cases hiring them as peer counselors — who are actively invested and are a go-to resource in their communities. The wellness hub is serving young men who practice their leadership skills to improve conditions in the City Heights neighborhood. Through this process, Making Connections has enabled young men to develop a community resource responsive to their unique needs.

For those boys and men who aren't part of these programs, however, the Movember Foundation offers these five health tips:

  • Stay connected! Make "Man Time" — Your friends are important and spending time with them is good for you. Catch up regularly, check in, and make time.
  • Talk! Have conversations, especially about the tough stuff.
  • Move more! Do more of what makes you feel good — walking, running, or playing sports.
  • Know your numbers! At 50, talk to your doctor about prostate cancer and whether it's right for you to have a PSA test. If you are of African or Caribbean descent, or have a father or brother with prostate cancer, you should be having this conversation at 45. Know your numbers, know your risk, and talk to your doctor.
  • Know Thy Nuts! Get to know what's normal and talk to a doctor if anything feels unusual.

Now in its 11th year, the Movember Foundation plans to debut a new campaign in early 2019, which aims to improve the health of 50 million American men over the next five years. This initiative will feature an unprecedented set of digital resources and services designed to prioritize prevention, early intervention, and the empowerment of men to better self-manage their health with support from families, peers, and communities. They will include online training programs, health trackers, and promotional tools in prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health and suicide prevention. 

"Please participate in Movember," Todd adds. "Sign up at Movember.com, grow a mustache for the 30 days of Movember, or donate to others growing! Together, we can change the face of men's health."

Cover image: Sunny Studio / Shutterstock.com

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