You may have noticed a unique phenomenon this month- thousands of men all over the United States and the world grew mustaches in an effort to raise awareness and funding for men's health. The witty slogan from the Movember foundation suggests that the idea is to "change the face of men's health". A few months ago, I argued that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge struggled to achieve educational awareness, despite its enormous monetary success. The Movember foundation focuses on exactly that educational awareness. By creating a popular and obvious way to participate in an awareness movement, they are sparking important conversations.
These conversations revolve primarily around the three key areas of focus: prostrate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health issues. The Movember website offers the key statistics required to capture attention- four times as many men as women commit suicide every year, one in seven men are diagnosed with prostrate cancer, and that testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men aged 15-35 years old. These statistics tell a story of the scope of men's health issues, but also provoke deeper questions.
We spend a lot of time culturally debating the way we raise our young girls, and the way we treat women. We have national conversations on the specific language we use around our girls- but we don't have the same ones for the language we use around our boys. We don't spend a lot of time thinking about the impact telling our young boys to "be strong" or "tough it out" might have on them.
We can look at high school football as an example of this messaging for boys. Research shows that only 47% of all concussions are reported. The concussions that were not reported were primarily ignored because they were not considered serious enough for medical attention. Other reasons included a motivation to not be withheld from playing and a lack of awareness about long-term consequences.
This kind of pattern repeats for male patients in the healthcare industry. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, as of 2012, men are 24% less likely to than women to have visited a doctor within the past year. In a survey done in 2000, 25% of men admitted that when sick, they would wait as long as possible to see a physician. Diabetic men are twice as likely as women to have a leg or foot amputated due to complications related to diabetes.
These grim statistics can be found for a variety of circumstances- men are less likely to seek the care that they need. This is exactly why a group like the Movember Foundation is so important. They are targeting a huge issue in an addressable and actionable way.
In an impressive and interactive layout, their website showcases the projects that they have funded in the past, and the results they have seen. Uniquely, the Movember Foundation states that it does not fund any administrative or institutional overhead, so by donating, you know that your money will go directly to the projects they fund. This transparency, in part, may have led to their ubiquity this year. Movember teams range from corporate groups like Credit Suisse to smaller companies such as SoulCycle and LinkedIn. Additionally, Movember is popular on college campuses all the way from NYU to Stanford to Georgetown.
We need more conversation around men's health, and we need more non-profits like the Movember Foundation to drive public health awareness. Last year, the Movember Foundation had over four million participants, and according to their annual report, 99% of these participants had a conversation with someone about their healthcare. That's the kind of impact we should aim for.
You can support the Movember Foundation through their website. Donations are open until Dec. 9. I have no affiliation or relationship to the Movember foundation, but have found their cause and story inspiring to share.