Credit: GURFC via Facebook

Changing the conversation: Movember, masculinity and men’s health

The Glasgow Guardian speaks to Glasgow University’s Men’s Rugby Club about the progress being made in breaking down the stigmas surrounding men’s mental health in sport.

Movember is all about changing the face of men’s health. Men’s health is in crisis. Mental health, suicide prevention, prostate cancer and testicular cancer – are all largely preventable, yet men are dying on average five years earlier than women and for largely preventable reasons. A growing number of men, around 10.8 million globally, are facing life with a prostate cancer diagnosis. Globally testicular cancer is the most common cancer among young men. And across the world, one man dies by suicide every minute of every day, with males accounting for 69% of all suicides. Since 2003, with the overarching goal of speaking up, the charity has funded more than 1,250 men’s health projects around the globe, challenging the status quo, shaking up men’s mental health research and developing the way health services reach and support men. 

Every year, Glasgow University Rugby Football Club (GURFC) take part in the Movember campaign, growing moustaches and pounding the pavements of the West End to raise money and awareness of men’s health in sport, each player with their individual reasons for getting involved. The Glasgow Guardian spoke to GURFC’s former captain and welfare secretary Jamie Price about the men’s rugby club’s involvement in Movember and the importance of changing the conversation around men’s mental health and masculinity. 

“Movember is a really important thing for rugby, and sport in general,” the GURFC players stated. “Globally, the rate of suicide, particularly among men, is alarmingly high. Men’s mental health is massively under-talked about, especially in sport, and there’s a culture of too many men ‘toughing it out,’ keeping their feelings to themselves and struggling in silence.

“We’re not only raising money, we’re raising awareness. If boys have difficulties, usually they don’t want to talk about it to their mate. This time of year is a good opportunity to break out of these stigmas and habits and challenge masculine stereotypes. Movember is so visible and sometimes it does inspire boys to speak up. 

“This year, we’re going further than growing moustaches. We have around 60 members growing moustaches but there are also about 20 of us, who are running 1800 kilometres together throughout the month of November – 60 kilometres a day for the 60 men that are lost to suicide each and every hour across the world. We want to highlight this shocking statistic and raise awareness to fight against it.”

For so long, medals have been placed before mental health in sport, whilst the industry has shied away from confronting what was once deemed a taboo subject. In 2019, Movember was announced as the official delivery partner for the Rugby League World Cup, which was postponed until 2022. As the first-ever international sporting event to have a mental health contract, the charter committed to delivering Movember’s Ahead of The Game mental fitness workshops to teenage athletes, their families and sports coaches. It also committed to providing a mental fitness campaign that reaches millions of people worldwide. 

According to Price, masculinity has played a large role in sport, especially rugby, and as a result, hindered the appearance of the conversation surrounding men’s mental health. However, as the current welfare secretary, he believes that this changing and is actively encouraging members of the rugby club to speak out about their issues:

“We always hear about the macho culture of sports and how sportsmen are tough and don’t cry, but it’s just not true. As welfare secretary this year, it’s really eye-opening how many people come to you with their difficulties and I wholeheartedly encourage guys to come and talk to me when they’re having issues, especially if they feel like they can’t go to their friends. 

“In the last few years, in the men’s rugby club, the macho bravado thing has been eradicated and we are very open to talking to one another; we’re all really close and continually challenging the culture of toxic masculinity.”

Despite progress being made in the men’s rugby club to break down these harmful stigmas, the former captain believes that there is still work to be done to repaint the wider picture and ensure that everyone, everywhere feels comfortable talking about issues and monitoring their health, whether that be physically or mentally. 

“I want to challenge the university to increase their funding for mental health,” he stated with passion. “I personally don’t think that the counselling and psychological services are visible enough and it takes too long to get an appointment. The problem is that because the service is so limited, it prioritises people who are imminently at risk of suicide. This is important, we want to prevent suicide, but I’d like to see it stopped at a much earlier point. I’d like a much more preventative system and approach, where the university encourages people to attend one-on-one meetings or clinics. 

“However, I want to commend GUSA. They delivered a workshop a few weeks ago about challenging toxic masculinity and gender-based violence. We really opened up about our experiences of times when we felt uncomfortable and our feelings, and we all wanted to be a positive influence on the wider university community. Every club has difficulties with individual members of cultures but we want to overcome that and change our clubs for the better. I truly believe that the people that are in the rugby club now are some of the best people that I’ve ever been surrounded by and it’s really positive for us to be a part of that.” 

The importance of Movember cannot be understated in providing support for boys and men across the world. However, as with every campaign, the conversation cannot end here. Men are dying too young and we can’t afford to stay silent. These men are someone’s brother, father, son, friend – we need to break down the stigma around men talking about their feelings and start conversations about the struggles that are faced on a regular basis. 

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