Credit: Polly Banks

“There’s a lot of saying, we need to start doing”: Movember ambassadors on men’s health

GU Movember ambassadors Matt Cornish and Jay Kelman discussed the importance of Movember in helping to tackle toxic masculinity that has contributed to male health issues.

TW: mention of mental health issues and suicide

Every November, we see men on campus growing (or attempting to grow) moustaches. Why? To raise awareness for Movember. Movember is the leading charity in the UK changing the face of men’s health. Growing a stache is only one of the methods campaigners and fundraisers are using to raise money and awareness for men’s health. 

Matt Cornish and Jay Kelman are two Glasgow University students who are passionate about men’s health. This year, they have become some of the first Movember ambassadors for the University. They spoke to The Glasgow Guardian on the importance of the charity and what men’s health means to them. 

“Since the age of 16, I’ve struggled with my mental health,” Matt tells us. “It came out of the blue. I didn’t really understand mental health and then I just crumbled over the space of a month. I was in therapy for two-plus years, going to doctors’ appointments and such. It was a really tough time.

“In hindsight, my experience stemmed from not really being able to talk about my issues. Toxic masculinity meant that talking about my feelings would be seen as weakness. Since then, without the help that I received and the support and care, I wouldn’t necessarily be where I am now or here at all. Because I’ve had the luxury of that being given to me, I feel like I have to give it back. I couldn’t imagine not doing that.

“To me, Movember represents men from loads of different backgrounds talking and being open about their health in general. For me, the focus is more on mental health. But talking about health in general—prostate cancer, testicular cancer—they’re not really talked about amongst men. Why would you talk about feeling your balls with your mates? Me and Jay do, but that’s because it’s the vibe we’ve got in our friendship.” 

Movember places a specific emphasis on mental health and suicide prevention, prostate and testicular cancers. Whilst Matt focuses more on the mental health side of the campaign, Jay is passionate about its physical side. 

“Movember is all about looking a bit ridiculous and spurring on a conversation,” Jay says. “I really want to raise more awareness for cancer. It’s got a close place in my heart. Physical health takes a certain level of self-evaluation. It does take time and effort to become that little bit more aware of what you need to be doing to check up on yourself.”

Combined, the pair have raised over £2,000 for the charity. Whilst raising money is a motivation, the ambassadors are focused on spreading the Movember message to every student. 

“We’re really happy about raising money for the charity but we have a very strong stance on raising awareness,” Jay tells us. “If we raised no money but everyone in the University could know about the charity and to check in on each other, that’s a bigger accomplishment than hitting any monetary target. If we can make a small difference to every person then that’s more important than raising lots of money.”

In 2020, three-quarters of registered suicides were for men and one in eight men report experiencing symptoms for mental health issues, according to research conducted by Priory Group. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer type amongst men over 45, and testicular cancer is the most common type of cancer amongst young men. Movember aims to raise money and awareness, stimulating conversations about male health issues and how to tackle them. They encourage men to do five things: spend time with people who make them feel good, talk more, know the numbers behind physical health, know your nuts (what’s normal for your testicles), and to move more. 

Matt commented that huge strides have been made to enact Movember’s five steps. However, he feels that more can still be done. 

“There’s still things that need to change, like toxic masculinity, for example. We need to start doing the talking rather than just say that we should all talk about any difficulties we’re experiencing. A lot of blokes would agree that we need to talk about our mental health and I’m pushing for men to talk about their mental health. Do I talk about my mental health? Hardly ever. It’s a really difficult thing to do. Addressing that it’s hard and being honest about it is the difficult thing,” Matt says. “It’s about holding yourself accountable. There’s a lot of saying, we need to start doing.”

Both Matt and Jay are encouraging men to communicate and be proactive about their health, not just in the month of November, but all the time. In particular, they want to get the point across that discussions on men’s health shouldn’t be exclusive to one month a year.

They offer their advice to anyone—especially men—who are struggling with their mental or physical health:

“Be proactive,” Jay suggests. “A lot of people know what they’re supposed to do i.e. talk about what you’re going through. But so many people don’t do it. Just taking that first step is such an important thing, even if it’s the smallest one. Taking that first step into discomfort when you know it’s for the greater good. It will come easier the next time. It’s proactive bettering yourself.” 

Matt adds, “Reach out in whatever way or however you want to communicate with people. My thing is sports. So if I’ve had a bad day, I go to gym, go on a run, or go and train. It always helps. But if someone doesn’t like sports, you’re not going to tell them to hit some weights. 

“Socialise, get with a group of people – it’s easy to spiral downwards when you’re alone. Socialise, stay healthy, and talk about it. 

“Go for a coffee. I know a lot of men view that going for a coffee is not what men do – they go for a pint instead. But me? I love a coffee. Jay? He loves a coffee too. So if I’m having a bad day, I’ll shoot him a message and ask him if he wants a coffee. It’s the social interaction that matters. If you isolate yourself, it’s going to be much worse. 

“Problems shared, problems halved.” 

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