Each year throughout the month of November, men all over the world are brought together by what has become one of the most important movements for men, Movember.

Beyond the fun of growing moustaches, hosting a mo-ment, or moving for Movember, there is an incredibly important message behind this and that’s to change the way we look at men’s health. Men are unnecessarily suffering and dying far too young, due to suicide, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer and this is the time to take a stand. This month is a chance to learn, grow and change the way we interact as men and to help normalize talking about our health and not just for this month, but for the other 335 days of the year as well.

One of the most prevalent examples of where men are struggling is when it comes to talking about their mental health. As a society boys are taught from a young age that they shouldn’t cry, that they need to be tough, or they shouldn’t act like a girl. This sends a very clear message to them that tears and emotions are only for females. This creates an environment and culture of judgement from male peers when they see each other showing emotion as this has been conditioned into them as the appropriate response for the situation. As boys grow into men and life gets harder, so many men struggle with these emotions and have no idea how they should react or respond when they are feeling this way. Because of how we treat men in this regard, it creates a barrier and a negative stigma when it comes to accessing the necessary services and help they need and therefore they are less likely to seek help all together.

Globally, there is an estimated 264 million people that are diagnosed with depression. Although it is absolutely devastating that there are so many people that are struggling every day, it does show that having these feelings is a very common reality for people of all ethnicities and socio-economic groups. With such high numbers of people suffering from depression, suicide becomes an inevitable byproduct with around 800,000 deaths per year. Of these deaths, men are 1.7 times more likely to commit suicide than females and in a large number of regions, including the United States, men are around 4 times as likely to commit suicide. What is interesting to note however is these statistics are disproportionate. Woman are diagnosed with depression at a ratio of 2:1. This would suggest that there is a significant group of men that are left undiagnosed because they are less likely to seek help or the onset of their symptoms may present differently and therefore they do not get the support and treatment they need.

Recognizing mental illness

Spotting a mental illness can be very difficult because there are so many different conditions, from anxiety and depression to psychotic and substance abuse disorders. Every person exhibits symptoms in a different way and because of this, two people with the same condition may act in a completely different way from each other. Fortunately there are some universal behavioral indicators that although they don’t tell us the full story, they’re a good start to helping someone we think might be in need.

• Feeling sad or down

• Confused thinking or reduced concentration

• Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt

• Extreme mood changes of highs and lows

• Withdrawal from friends and activities

• Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping

• Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations

• Inability to cope with daily problems or stress

• Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people

• Problems with alcohol and drug use

• Major changes in eating habits

• Excessive anger, hostility or violence

• Suicidal thinking

How can I help?

Approaching someone that you think may be suffering from mental illness can be uncomfortable and difficult and this is fueled largely by our lack of knowledge of the topic, and that’s okay. We aren’t trained to be experts, nor do we need to be. We have one of the most powerful tools of support and that is just listening and engaging in conversation with the person. In these safe spaces, we can then determine if the person needs more help than we are able to offer and then we can talk with them to seek out additional support and services needed.

We have a real opportunity to make a difference in the lives of men and that starts with changing the way we interact and view what it means to be a man. It’s okay to be upset, it’s okay to hurt and it’s most definitely okay to cry. There is nothing weak about showing emotion because it is a completely natural part of being human. During the month of Movember if you’re in a position to donate to all the many life changing initiatives that are in place, please do so. Or at the very least, ask a man in your life how they are.

Visit the Movember website.