Male suicide accounts for 69 per cent of all suicides, with one man dying every minute somewhere in the world. Around 10.8 million men have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and testicular cancer is still the most common form of the disease affecting men across the world. In 2003, Travis Garrone and Luke Slattery decided enough was enough, successfully persuading 30 fellow Australians to grow a moustache for the month of November. Now, with over six million supporters and over 737 million pounds raised, it’s clear that Movember as a charity has had a massive impact. St Andrews, for its part, has a long tradition of getting involved, raising more money per head last year than any other university in the country and the rugby club alone raising 19,000 pounds. It’s perhaps understandable, then, that Movember can sometimes feel a little rugby-oriented. This year though, there’s a brand new committee dedicated to all things Movember who are hoping this particular misconception will get cleared up.
“Yes, Movember is about men, but everyone has a brother, or a dad, or a partner, or someone in their life that these issues are relevant to.” I’m speaking to Andrew, a fourth-year Biochemistry student and Head of Committee, as well as Bruno and Fergus, the two campus ambassadors for the campaign. And though it might be three boys chatting to me, it’s clear from the outset they really do want Movember to be for everyone this year. The committee is keen that it’s particularly important that girls feel like there are plenty of ways to get involved — Bella Turner, for example, ran 60 kilometres in a day last year, representing the 60 men who commit suicide each hour across the world. Both netball and women’s rugby, among other societies, have signed up too. “We’re really hoping that there’s something for everyone to relate to and want to be a part of. The key point from us is you don’t have to grow a moustache or be a rugby boy to get involved”.
Having said that, the rugby club will understandably continue to be at the forefront of the St Andrews campaign, because “it’s always been a rugby priority, we just really want to bring the rest of the university with us”. Because the club has always played such a pivotal role, last year raising over half of the university’s total for example, the committee’s make-up is reflective of this. They feel, however, that this is an asset rather than a drawback and, indeed, beneficial for both parties. “Rugby is an environment where a lot of these issues don’t get talked about”, something which might not come as too much of a surprise, though the three of them all agree that this needs to change — getting involved with a campaign that puts these issues at the top of everyone’s agenda for a month is a perfect way of doing this. “Certainly at a club level,” I’m told, “people could definitely be more open and honest and have those conversations with each other”.
Last year, the three of them each completed their own impressive challenges; from getting in the North Sea every single day throughout November to running a marathon without any training — though Andrew is quick to reassure me that “running hundreds of thousands of miles” isn’t a pre-requisite. Bruno tells me that last year, “my campaign was all about me… but now with our new roles it’s so much more about the admin and co-ordinating the whole uni effort”. This perhaps explains this year’s even more ambitious programme, which undeniably places a huge emphasis on group events and challenges. This is for two reasons and all thanks to COVID. For a start, this year marks the first year since 2020, where, like everything, fundraising for Movember hasn’t been impacted by various lockdowns and COVID restrictions. It’s unsurprising that the committee is keen to make the most of our (relatively) newfound freedom and move the emphasis back to coming together as a community in support of a common cause. From a darts night at the Union tonight (November 10th) to a pier jump and a 24-hour relay, there are plenty of ways to get involved. They’re keen and quick to point out that there are other ways to show your support other than donating. “It’s just posting on socials, or getting down to these events, or just starting those conversations with your male friends”.
They’re also concerned with trying to lessen the impact that COVID had on our collective mental health, also reflected in the breadth and accessibility of this year’s events. They tell me that this has become a central part of the charity's ethos, and as a result, they’ve been “doing such a good job at supporting people who are struggling and I think it’s very close to home for most people, if not everyone”.
We turn to Movember as a wider charity. I ask them at what point they each decided it was time to become more involved rather than just as fundraisers. Andrew feels that engagement at university level is absolutely critical, telling me “the onus is really on our age group. I think we’ve got a duty to spread information and awareness so that people realise they have support”. For Bruno, it’s two things; the lack of charities dedicated solely to men’s mental and physical health though much like Andrew he also feels that, “it’s just not pushed enough in media and popular discourse that you can prevent these illnesses if you catch them early — if there’s something that doesn’t feel right and they're noticing changes in their bodies then they need to take that seriously”. For his part, Fergus tells me that the emphasis is on the mental health side of things, because “particularly in today’s society, with things like social media you can never properly step back”.
I’m interested in the support Movember is providing their teams across the country — whether they get left to their own devices for the month and just happen to all be operating under the same name or whether there’s a real team feel. I’m told they’ve been heavily involved from the start, with a competitive application process to be a campus ambassador (St Andrews bucks the trend by having more than one due to last year’s impressive effort), and “really enjoyable” training days at their London offices. “We’re not employed by them or anything, but we’re in contact daily with a network of others”. The other campus ambassadors have formed a real support network, and I’m told that there are plans to visit each other’s universities and attend the various events each have been organising.
As anyone who’s tried to keep up with anything for a month will know, it’s a lot easier said than done — in 2021 for example 2.7 million gave up on their Dry January attempt six days in. So, I ask the team how they’re planning on keeping the momentum going through the month so that engagement is consistently high. It’s all in the socials, apparently (@ustamovember), though Fergus tells me he’s unsure about making another TikTok following his debut. Bruno will be posting the time and location of his daily run, so that people can join him for a chat, lend some support and get moving. So, most importantly, what actually is there to get involved with? Mo darts tonight at the Union and a pier jump on the 20th, before Mo Ball on the 27th (where guests will be able to take part in the auction, though Bruno assures me a second Movember-themed tattoo is not on the cards — truly devastating). Ending the month will be Sinners on the 30th, all of which they are hoping will help them to their target of £50,000. At the time of writing, only one week in, they’ve reached over £11,000 with nearly 300 individuals signed up to participate. With so much to get involved in, for the next three weeks the team are asking the following: “Raise awareness, get involved, start conversations”.
Photo: Gregory Chan