Owen Sharp

The Movember Foundation tackles men’s health on a global scale, year round. Millions have joined the movement, raising over £440m to help fund over 1,200 men’s health projects focusing on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health and suicide prevention. This Movember, the month formerly known as November, there are three ways to get involved to support men’s health: grow a moustache, run or walk 60km, or host an event. We got in touch with the foundation’s CEO Owen Sharp to find out more.

He speaks to us from “not-very-sunny Melbourne”, where a spring day has just ticked past 8pm. “I feel like some sort of criminal because I never stay in one place for very long,” he remarks of his travel schedule – indeed, the week before our conversation, the former chief executive of Prostate Cancer UK was in Kuala Lumpur for the World Cancer Congress. With the Movember concept originating in Melbourne, it makes sense for that to be where the organisation’s biggest office is. “I do come over here quite a lot.”

We chat with November less than a month away. “It’s all hands to the pump, all hands on deck, or whatever the cliché is. [October] is really our busiest month in many ways. November is our most important, but this is all about getting people to sign up, spreading the word about the campaign – it’s all systems go.”

There is no shortage of statistics regarding men’s health on the Movember website. Just a couple of examples are that 78% of suicides in the UK are men, and in the UK one man dies from prostate cancer every 45 minutes. Sharp must come across encouraging facts too though, we put to him. “That’s a really good point,” he says. “We often tend to highlight the stuff that’s not fixed yet, but there are things being fixed. I think even some of the scary statistics can actually be a little bit reassuring. We’re seeing the rates of prostate cancer going up, and on the face of it that always sounds scary. But actually what that often means is more men are getting diagnosed – doctors are having more and more conversations with men about whether they should be tested for prostate cancer.”

Research into this illness “has really come forward leaps and bounds”, he continues. “It used to be an area that probably wasn’t seen as the most exciting area of cancer research. But I think it’s fair to say – and I think Movember’s been a very, very big part of this – that prostate cancer research has actually become a little bit sexy in the sense that it’s an area some really great and interesting ideas are coming out of.”

As well as prostate and testicular cancer, Movember focuses on male mental health and suicide prevention. “It’s indisputable that three out of four people who take their own lives are men,” states Sharp. “That’s not just a statistical anomaly, the fact that this is happening disproportionately to men to that level means that some of the issues around it have to be to do with being men. There are issues men are facing and probably skills they don’t have.” He refers to a “generational legacy” of men being encouraged to keep a “stiff upper lip or be strong and silent”. The result is they don’t talk about or seek help for their issues.

“Health services historically are not very good at reaching men,” he adds, not attaching this to mental health only. Whereas the health service push for women to have breast and cervical screening, he points out, they are “not brilliant at talking to men and setting itself up in a way that works for men”.

While Movember has never run a campaign specifically targeting gay men, “We are very mindful of some of the unique issues that men in the gay community face.” In the case of prostate cancer, the foundation has found “that in certain generations gay men are more likely to be single, so they’re not going through the cancer journey with partners”. For these people, he tells us, support groups serve a real purpose. There are further issues in the gay community surrounding depression and suicide, he explains. Their campaign strives to help all males, “but we are very conscious that we need to tailor what we spend money on, and the work we do ourselves and with partners, to make sure we’re reaching specific [groups] – and the gay community is part of that.

“Well, I couldn’t fail to do that really, could I?” he says when asked how he’d encourage people to get involved with Movember 2018. “Go to uk.movember.com, sign up, it’s really important.” One way of raising funds is of course to sprout facial hair, to ‘Grow a Mo’. “Wearing your moustache is kind of like wearing a badge; it’s saying: ‘I care about men’s health, this really matters.’ We’re not only talking to men,” he resumes. “To the 50% of the population who aren’t able to grow a moustache, please come and be part of it.” Other means of generating money and awareness are the ‘Move’ initiative where participants walk or run 60km during November (the distance decided for the 60 men lost to suicide every hour), and the hosting of events entitled ‘Mo-ments’.

The Movember website tells us men are dying six years earlier than women. “There is no good reason why men should die earlier,” says Sharp, “and yet we’ve just for all of our lives accepted it. We have to change that. The more people who register, the more we can raise awareness, and the more we can spend funds to really make an everlasting difference.”

uk.movember.com

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