Many of you will know that November is a month dedicated to give special focus to issues of male health. It is also a month increasingly known as Movember because of the international movement of that name.
The origins of the Movember movement which has funded over 1,200 men’s health projects globally are relatively recent. A TV news programme in 1999 shared the story of a group of young men in Adelaide, South Australia who coined the term “Movember” and the idea of growing moustaches for charity throughout the month of November. Like all good ideas it seems to have originated in a pub discussion but has done a huge amount not only in Australia but across the globe to increase awareness of male health. Movember in all its charitable work has raised $174-million worldwide.
Movember has a particular focus on prostate and testicular cancer, suicide prevention and male mental health.
As someone who grew up in west Scotland and in a cultural and community environment where men rarely spoke about issues of mental health and emotion, saw going to the doctor as a sign of failure, and certainly did not consider precautionary actions in detecting cancers, the amazing work of Movember seems light years away and evidence of very real change and progress.
Yet I wonder if we have changed all that much. Indeed, having worked in health and social care for quite a while I remain astonished at the frequent resistance of men to take up opportunities around health screening and wellbeing. There clearly are still deeply ingrained cultural and societal attitudes and behaviours which assume that seeking help, talking about your feelings and sharing fears and concerns, or simply just attending to one’s own health are activities not deemed to be masculine and male. Damaging nonsense which must surely come from somewhere.
It is well known that men will die on average 4.5 years earlier than women, and for reasons that are largely preventable. Men are simply dying too young, and it does not need to be like that. As I visit care homes it is clearly the case that our male population is seriously under-represented amongst the very old. Surely this is a silent reality that we should all be seeking to prevent? Movember has a clear aim and that is to reduce preventable male death by 25% by the year 2030. It is a laudable and perfectly achievable aim if we change the narrative around masculinity, maleness and health. I would contend that this must start with our approach to stereotypes in relation to health at a very young age. The absence of strong male role models positive about health and preventative care and behaviour does not help in this battle against avoidable death.
The data and statistics are self-selling and self-evident. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men in the UK. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men aged 25-49. On average, 13 men each day take their life by suicide in the UK. In Scotland, one man in four dies before the age of 65. Indeed, healthy life expectancy for men has fallen by more than a year in Scotland, with no similar change seen in other UK nations. Life expectancy for males at birth was 60.9 years in 2018-2020, a drop of 1.4 years on the previous two-year period, according to the Office for National Statistics. These are statistics that require focused action.
There are some tremendous and creative organisations focussed on male health in Scotland and yet there strikes me as a lack of coordination and policy focus in attending to this major area of public health. This is especially noticeable when I explore what is available for older men where the lack of provision and resource seems especially concerning. Movements such as Movember are to be greatly lauded and supported but they can be no substitute for governmental and system focus on the prioritising of the needs of men in our population, not least older men, and nowhere more so than in Scotland.
I couldn’t put it better than the words of the internet poet forty two who wrote:
The Antidote to Man Flu (Movember Muse)
Man flu is not a decease
or a medical condition
but shameful terminology
and psychological attrition
designed to keep men working
and pretend they are not ill
because their health is less important
than the tasks they must fulfil
Then the demand that men “man up”
translates to ignore distress or pain
ignore your personal wellbeing
for anther’s personal gain
compounded by the social stigma
should a man dare to complain
or should he show emotion
people react like he’s insane
The ratlin and prozac
that the doctors freely give
create controlled existence
and stifle the ability to live
it’s time to end the shame
silence the voices in your head
and the first step is to prescribe
a pill thats coloured red