November is the month when the spotlight turns to men's health
Men’s reluctance to talk about their physical and mental health or to visit their GP when something doesn’t feel right remains a big issue.
But the Movember initiative has achieved a lot in highlighting this problem and encouraging men to take responsibility for their own wellbeing.
Formed 17 years ago in Melbourne, Australia, the Movember Foundation aims to raise awareness of men’s health issues including prostate cancer, testicular cancer and male suicide.
Many Irish men have embraced the concept of Movember, growing moustaches and beards while raising money for men’s health charities - and perhaps more importantly, starting conversations around difficult subjects.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 crisis has led to a lot of people being laid off work, or starting to work from home. Combined with leisure and recreational sporting activities being cancelled, men are experiencing a significant reduction in social interaction.
Opportunities to start conversations, to air problems, to notice that someone is not ok are few and far between. When people do meet, encounters tend to be brief and reserved.
We are facing a very real danger of increased suicide and of life-threatening medical conditions going undiagnosed and untreated until it is too late.
We are all too aware of this in my family. My husband suffered from frequent chest infections and tonsillitis and would wait until he could barely get out of bed to go to the doctor. When I would suggest - before it got to that stage - that he go to the doctor, he would always reply ‘He’s only going to tell me to stop smoking.’
In the end, it was a visit to the doctor to ask for anti-inflammatory tablets for what my husband thought was a pulled muscle in his shoulder that led to a lung cancer diagnosis. It was spreading at an alarming rate through his body and unfortunately, was terminal.
We will never know if getting treated any sooner would have changed the eventual outcome, but we know for sure that by the time the cancer was detected, the damage was done.
We hear all the time that if something doesn’t feel right, get checked out. Yes, doctors are very busy people but they much prefer people coming to them for their expertise rather than sitting at home while conditions develop to a point of being untreatable.
As the Covid-19 crisis unfolded, it felt like a huge pause button had been pressed. That was fine for a while, but illness doesn’t stop and wait for a global pandemic to pass by.
GPs are encouraging people not to be afraid to attend to make an appointment if they have any concerns about their health. Clinics are being run in a Covid-safe manner, with patients waiting in their cars and going straight into the doctor’s surgery. The same system is in place for people getting blood tests.
I’ve had reason to go to the doctor twice in the last few months, and once to the Emergency Department at Letterkenny University Hospital and I can assure anyone with reservations that everything was clean and all interactions were properly conducted.
Of course, we all need to take care of our health but November is a time when there is a particular focus on issues affecting men.
The Movember Foundation’s Irish website has a wealth of information about men’s health, and answers many questions that men may have about their areas of concern.
It includes information on prostate and testicular cancer, including when to start screening, signs and symptoms, and what to expect from treatment.
The website also has important and helpful information on men’s mental health issues that all of us should read in order to learn to spot the signs that all is not well with the men in our lives.
Movember’s Global Director of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Brendan Maher said: “What’s happening now is impacting us all in different ways. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do, where to start or what to say.
“As we push through this together, we hope we can empower people to connect with others who are struggling and find the help they need now.”
There are very useful tips on the ‘Movember Conversations - take our word for it’ section of the website. It helps people to start and then navigate a conversation with someone they are concerned about; which questions to ask to help get to the bottom of what is troubling them, and where to go next.
And there is information on how to take the first steps to reach out and ask for help.
This can often feel like the most difficult thing someone ever has to do, but it is most definitely worth pushing through and getting that help.
Men are also encouraged to sign up to take part in Movember by growing a moustache or beard. This is a fun element to a serious topic and it allows participants to make a statement that men’s health matters, be it their own or that of other men who may be desperately in need of support and solidarity.
Anyone who is looking for more information or who wishes to get involved can go to ie.movember.com
As the Movember Foundation says: “It'll be the most important move you ever make.
“It'll be the most important dough you ever raise.
“It’ll be the most important mo you’ll ever grow.”