This year, student unions, sports societies, and many other students in the UK have raised tens of thousands of pounds for the charity Movember, despite the coronavirus restrictions in place.
Every November, men around the world grow moustaches to raise awareness as well as money for projects related to testicular and prostate cancer, as well as men’s mental health. Non-moustache growers can also take part in other ways, such as the Move Challenge, which challenges participants to run or walk 60km within the month. This 60km represents the 60 men lost every hour to suicide.
This year, Hull University Student’s Union (HUSU) managed to raise £20,000, almost doubling their previous efforts. “If I’m being honest, I think one of the reasons we were more successful was because of the lockdown,” says Sian Doherty, President of Sport at HUSU. “November is normally a really busy month for students, but the lockdown allowed them to complete the 60km easily and do plenty of virtual fundraising activities.” These included Movember-themed “Zoom quizzes” and FIFA tournaments.
“Due to the restrictions we couldn’t do any in-person activities, but it doesn’t take away from what we were able to do virtually – I think it’s even more impressive if I’m being honest! We can build on these creative ideas and make them even bigger in years to come.”
Oxford University also took part, with the colleges raising a combined total of £94,000 at the time of writing— challenges to reach fundraising milestones included leg waxing and getting frosted tips. Even more impressively, Exeter Uni raised over £191,000.
So what are the motivations for taking part? Darius Moore, a student at Durham University, says he had the idea “in the back of my head” after seeing friends getting involved previously. However, being part of the University Royal Naval Unit (URNU), he wasn’t allowed to grow facial hair. Once he left the URNU, he was set on doing Movember. When a family friend took his own life in October, Darius decided to dedicate his efforts to him, which “bolstered my motivations greatly”.
“With the great drive-in feminism over the last decade especially, I feel that we should also bear in mind masculinity too – I believe the two are closely intertwined…when it comes to men’s mental health, I think one of the reasons it’s becoming so terrible is because the idea of masculinity is changing and unknown. What is it to be a man in 2020? Previous generations would say it’s being ‘tough’ and ‘emotionless’ and ‘macho’. These outdated ideas still linger today, and need to be changed.”
Bath University was not able to take part in November this year, but thanks to continuing donations since their participation last year, they have raised £22,000 since November 2019. The student support services found it to be a good opportunity to talk about men’s mental health. “There was a great atmosphere in November,” says Imroze Sahota, one of Bath’s Wellbeing Advisers.
“We were like walking billboards,” he says, alluding to the moustaches that the wellbeing team grew. “It took the barriers down” between students and the team— “we could have a laugh, compare each other’s moustaches, then talk about mental health.”
The high student engagement in Movember indicates the importance of mental health among those of student age, and therefore the need for student support services as well. Sahota and his team used it as an opportunity.
“Three out of four suicides are male. In the UK, twelve men a day take their lives by suicide. Those statistics are stark… what we need to do as a university is promote our services and make sure male students are aware of what’s on offer.” Sahota noted Bath’s wellbeing team, mental health team, and in-house counsellors. He also is mindful of the way he talks about the subject to men.
“If you change it to mental fitness you get more males interacting [because] it’s like physical health. There are fewer labels and stigma attached to that. If you’ve got a physical injury, you wouldn’t be embarrassed to tell your friend.” In the same way, he argues, if you said to your friend “I need to focus on my mental fitness… my mood’s been a bit low and I need to focus on that, that has a lot more positive impact on males.”
“University’s a pressured environment… it’s lots and lots of changes, and on top of that, you’re trying to focus on your studies. Why Movember was so important was that [it] plants the seed [for] being comfortable with seeking help and being aware of what sound mental health is.”
Last year, £12.8 million was raised for Movember worldwide. With the impressive efforts of students, it’s likely, even more, has been raised this year.