What began as a joke among friends in an Australian bar in 2003 has grown to become a campaign aimed at preventing suicide in men around the world.
Nearly 20 years ago, two friends joked about bringing the moustache – an outdated fashion trend at the time – back in style over some casual beers. Inspired by breast cancer fundraisers, the moustache sparked the idea of Movember, and has since become the symbol of men’s health around the world.
As a result, the Movember Foundation was born. The foundation seeks to raise awareness and funds for prostate and testicular cancer by growing a moustache during the month of November.
Mitch Hermansen, development director for the foundation, said the campaign has extended its focus to mental health and suicide prevention, an area of men’s health he said is highly stigmatized.
“As we grew and were raising a lot of funds, we realized we were able to impact other issues men face,” said Hermansen. “Seventy-five per cent of all suicides in Canada are by men but nobody talks about it. It’s a highly stigmatized issue, and as deadly as it is, it’s actually preventable. We just have to talk about it.”
According to Statistics Canada, death by suicide was among the top 10 leading causes of death in 2012. Of the 3,926 suicides recorded that year, men were three times more likely to die by suicide than women.
Hermansen said the Movember Foundation began focusing on mental health and suicide prevention in Canada that same year, and has since received widespread support that continues to grow each year.
Adam Jenkins, fourth-year RTA School of Media student at Ryerson, whose grandfather has battled and overcame prostate cancer, said the Movember Foundation is brilliant for expanding their cause because it makes it accessible to more people.
“In first year I lost two people to suicide,” said Jenkins. “As soon as I saw Movember was also for mental health, I had two more reasons to do it.”
Keith Jarvis, a classmate of Jenkins’ and an avid fundraiser for Movember, said it’s important to “get the ball rolling” when it comes to talking about men’s mental health, and moustaches are a good way to do that.
“Moustaches start conversations, and getting people talking is huge for awareness,” said Jarvis.
Hermansen said that the moustache is great because it has become a symbol that gets people talking about something men usually wouldn’t bring up amongst themselves.
“Men are raised with the mentality that showing weakness and vulnerability isn’t manly,” said Hermansen. “Moustaches cause conversation, and something as serious as mental health deserves to be talked about and not bottled up.”
Hermansen explained other ways people can get involved with Movember.
“Women can’t participate the way men can, but they can fundraise and host events,” said Hermansen. “It could also be as easy as booking an appointment for your dad, having a conversation about mental health, learning how to have that conversation or posting on social media.”
Hermansen also highlighted Move For Movember, a physically active way everyone can get involved in supporting men’s health during the month of November. The Move Challenge encourages people to set themselves a distance goal of their choice to accomplish by the end of the month.
Jenkins said he would explore Move after seven years of growing a moustache, having set himself a goal of travelling 20 km on the treadmill to lose weight.
Despite the many ways people can support the cause, Hermansen said the moustache is crucial for the future of Movember and will always be there to get people talking.
“Breast cancer awareness has its pink ribbon, and our ribbon happens to be brown, hairy, and on our face,” said Hermansen. “When you see a moustache in November, your mind goes towards men’s health and suicide prevention, and that just shows the importance of this movement.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Adam Jenkins’ grandfather battled and overcame testicular cancer, when in fact it was prostate cancer. The change has been made.