Troy Murray has been growing out his moustache every November for eight years.
What started out as a fun challenge for the 31-year-old and his Ryerson University varsity hockey team, turned into a personal Movember movement in 2010.
“I had grown a moustache along with many of my friends and teammates the year prior for fun, but didn’t actually register or raise any funds,” the Toronto native told Global News. “I wanted to make up for it by educating myself and being a champion for Movember.”
Every November, men across the country take part in Movember, a charity campaign that encourages men to grow out their moustaches to raise money for men’s health. With a focus on prostate cancer in the past, Movember has turned into a campaign that covers all of aspects of a man’s well-being, including suicide prevention and mental health.
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And the charity knows how to appeal to their target audience. Focused on social media as well as online fundraising, Mitch Hermansen, director of development at the Movember Foundation, told Global News the campaign raised $17.7 million in 2017. A total of $230 million has been raised for prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention since the foundation started 11 years ago.
“Starting a conversation is important all yearlong. Asking someone how they are doing, checking in when you think someone might be struggling, and listening are all fundamental in supporting men’s health,” Hermansen said.
And there are reasons people like Murray stick to the challenge.
“Expanding from just prostate cancer to men’s health as a whole, and adding the Move for Movember aspect, more and more people considered joining the movement or supporting the cause.”
And because he was a participant for almost a decade, his friends, family, and colleagues support him every year.
“Now as a new dad, my health is more important than ever. I want to live forever for her.”
Joe Rachert, program manager at Canadian Men’s Health Foundation based in Vancouver, told Global News what he sees in campaigns like Movember or even ones that the foundation runs, is crafting something that resonates with men.
“The biggest one is presenting something in a friendly, competitive matter,” he explained. “Guys don’t mind being competitive — that’s what makes Movember great. It is fun and engaging.”
He added if you want to create a campaign that gains momentum for men, you have to embrace masculinity in a positive way. “Men really do want to help one another if they are given the opportunity,” he argued. Men also need to be open about their weaknesses.
“That is the side of masculinity we need to see in society. It is OK to talk about it. It is OK to say, ‘I’m not feeling good today.”
It also helps to keep it humourous. Of course, tackling all facets on men’s health in one-go isn’t easy, but something as simple as growing out an awkward moustache to raise money can work.
Anisa Mirza, CEO and co-founder of Giveffect, a Toronto-based donation platform told Global News in 2014 campaigns like Movember work because it attracts a younger generation of men who are already glued to their devices.
Getting men to talk health seriously
For Murray, social-media campaigns make it easy to share stories or concerns online, often to strangers.
“I do still think there’s a stigma for men to talk about health,” he continued. “I know men are still too stubborn to go to the doctor if they feel sick. They tend to think, as a ‘man,’ they should just be able to battle through it on their own. I hope men will continue to rethink what healthy masculinity looks like and will continue to eliminate the stigma.”
Rachert believed we are just in the beginning of a cultural change of how seriously men take their own health. Several studies have found men either don’t go to their doctors when they should or are too disinterested in their own health.
This can also be boiled down to generational change. Rachert said most young men can agree they look and treat their health very differently compared to their fathers.
“Being healthy was not part of being a ‘guy,” he continued. “I was taught to have a full meal at the dinner table, it was OK to have a beer gut and you didn’t have to exercise.” He said this notion isn’t always true for young men today — more want to be involved with their health.
Keeping the momentum going
But as a new month rolls around and moustaches are shaved off, how do we keep the momentum of talking about men’s health going? Rachert said it starts with men taking initiative and continuing to support local organizations throughout the year.
From runs to fundraisers to even telling the men in your life to go to the doctor, there are small things people can do throughout the year.
READ MORE: What you need to know about men’s cancers
“There are five health behaviours that cause 70 per cent of all chronic disease,” he said. This comes down to smoking, drinking, eating well, exercising and sleeping. If you focus on just one of these behaviours and try to improve it, it will be beneficial down the road.
“Guys need to learn how to support one another. We need to get much better at this.”
— With files from Irene Ogrodnik