I have been participating on and off for five years now, and while the process is fun, and occasionally itchy, I have never gone deeper than to tell myself that I was helping to support men. A group that despite appearances, needs a lot of help. While issues such as colon and testicular cancer have been at the forefront of Movember activism since the beginning, it is only more recently that focus was put on the number one non-accidental killer of men age 18 to 45: depression and suicide.
Those numbers shocked me when I read them, but they were confirmed when I spoke to Dr. John Oliffe, a professor at the School of Nursing, University of British Columbia, and founder UBC's Men's Health Research program. While suicide is often seen as an issue for teenagers and young adults, often focusing on girls, the numbers are staggering and unexpected for adult men.
Dr. Oliffe explained how one of the main issues is how our culture defines what it means to be a man. Men tend to be resistant to professional help because many of the leading causes of depression and suicide are seen as weakness points for men. Depression is pitched as a woman’s issue.
“We often talk about masculinity and what it is to be a man,” said Dr. Oliffe. “That’s a problem. Men are expected to be rational, not vulnerable.”
Men still internalize the idea that they are supposed to be providers, protectors, the strong ones, explains Dr. Oliffe. This severely hinders their ability to seek out help and advice for their problems. In my personal experience, the changing gender roles in our society, which are overwhelmingly positive on the whole, are also causing a kind of crisis of identity amongst many men.
This is the argument of many feminists, that the patriarchy not only hurts women, but men as well by forcing them into a rigid definition of what being a man means. While I have a conflicted view of the concept of the patriarchy, the point does make sense. Men often don’t feel like they have permission to be more vulnerable.
Dr. Oliffe and his team at UBC have come up with a unique way to combat this stigma. Dr. Oliffe uses a strength-based approach to encourage men to talk about their issues. By relying on men’s desire to protect and be strong for others, they allow them to explore their own issues by helping others. In one program he runs for military veterans of Afghanistan, men are approached and asked to help other men discuss their issues with PTSD. They are recruited as facilitators, but once in the program they feel more comfortable opening up about their own issues. Camaraderie becomes the gateway to getting help themselves.
For regular guys, Dr. Oliffe recommends a similar approach using their friends. By offering to help their friends with their issues, and feeling open enough to discuss personal matters, it gives them permission to talk about their own problems.
“The explicit permission of other men to be open and vulnerable is the lynchpin to breaking those norms. With another man, the opportunity to vent, to say it out loud, can really help,” said Dr. Oliffe.
Dr. Oliffe says that men often worry that seeking professional help will result in them being medicated, which will take control away from them. Instead, he recommends self-management techniques such as mindfulness and meditation to help cope with feeling of anxiety or depression. There is no one ideal way of managing feelings of depression, each person is different, so Dr. Oliffe recommends guys develop their own system of what works for them.
“It’s your own playbook,” said Dr. Oliffe. “Take the strategies that work for you. Don’t feel tied to any one way. When Peyton can’t get the running game going, he starts throwing the ball.”
This playbook is something I have been experimenting with. You see it dawned on me that the reason I feel compelled to participate in Movember is that I have struggled with many of these same issues. Depression is something that has plagued me for years, and it is only more recently that I have recognized it and started to address it.
The thing is, I have always felt like I was the kind of guy who wouldn’t be trapped by the macho “gotta be a man” stuff, but it’s harder to escape than it seems. My struggles have made me reevaluate a lot of my views on things, and I feel a lot better about being more accepting of the idea that sometimes I need help. The work Dr. Oliffe is doing at UBC is thanks to nearly $3 million in funding through Movember Canada, money that he says is unprecedented in the men’s mental health research.
The Movember campaign is fun and kinda silly, but what really matters is that it’s working, bringing attention and funding to often overlooked men’s health issues. If you feel like helping out, you can sponsor my mo, or anyone else’s at movember.com.
In many ways we are lucky to have full-day junior kindergarten in Ontario. It saves us a ton of money over daycare, provides an amazing opportunity to give our daughter a head start on a lifetime of learning, and starts kids on a road to independence.
But here’s the problem: The schools aren’t ready for it.
That’s my conclusion after two months of my daughter attending JK here in Ottawa. While she is clearly learning, developing skills, and making new friends, it’s clear that the schools are not prepared to deal with kids as young as three (which my daughter was when she started in September).
Many kids, many as young as my daughter, are coming from a daycare or homecare background where help is provided for little things like buttons and zippers, trips to the bathroom, and other daily tasks. This runs up against a school system - and a union - that consider teachers to be professional educators, not babysitters, and seems to expect a level of independence that three and four year-olds may not be ready to manage.
Of course teachers are professional educators, and they are right to demand to be treated as such, but that doesn’t help my little girl with the zipper on her coat, the hinge on her lunchbox, or to remember to put on her leggings (true story) on the way home from school.
It seems as though schools are expecting a level of independence and self-reliance that four year-olds are generally not ready for. Sure they should be in the process of making those steps, but to require a little extra help is not unusual. Already in the first two months, we have run into several instances where my daughter has been brought to tears over issues of self-reliance. She just turned four three weeks ago.
I understand the teacher’s point of view. They have 25 plus kids and only so many hands and hours in the day to zip, button and tuck. I’m sure there are also some legal and union considerations when it comes to such things, but the fact is that if we’re going to be sending our four year-olds to school full time there needs to be a middle ground between the hands-on approach of day care and the independence required by public schools.
Days before she started school in September, my daughter was still having daily naps. We tried weaning her off of them in the summer, but it just didn’t work. On weekends she still naps, and it’s clear by how quickly she conks out that they still are much needed. Are there naps at school? Nope.
We asked my daughter’s teacher about naps and were told that the kids have a quiet play time in the afternoon when they can calm down a little bit, colour, read, or rest. The problem is, given the choice between having a rest and colouring, my exhausted daughter will always choose the latter. She’s too young to self-regulate her fatigue. It’s like asking a kid if they would prefer an apple or a cookie.
So we have an exhausted little girl who is being asked to self-regulate and be independent for the first time in her life– at age four.
The onus should be on the government to fill this gap, either through adding more teacher’s assistants to each class or by altering the curriculum to allow more time for kids to adjust to their newfound independence. It simply isn’t realistic, or fair, to expect children that young to be able to manage their daily routine without help.
Thankfully my little girl is full of confidence and perseverance, but I can only imagine the frustration she must feel on a daily basis as she struggles with things she used to have managed for her. Certainly I’m glad to see her developing more independence, we can’t coddle them forever, but there needs to be more understanding that junior kindergarten is a transition, and requires some extra help.
On the whole, junior kindergarten seems to be a positive as I’m clearly seeing improvement in her letters, writing and numbers. She is even getting excited about science. However, I worry about her confidence when she is struggling to be self-reliant without the support she is used to.
I have always been a relatively hairy man. I grew facial hair quite young as a boy and persevered through the manscaping trend to protect my alabaster skin from harm. However, I have never been able to summon the fortitude to maintain structured, coiffed facial hair on a regular basis.
That ends now.
This year I am participating in Movember, which, if you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, is the annual advocacy campaign for men’s health issues. I have participated in Movember before, with varying levels of success, but had taken a couple years off lately to put my follicles through a vigorous Drago-like training regiment to increase their awesome growing power through science and metaphysics.
As advocacy campaigns go, Movember is the OG of viral awareness, and although it may also be blamed for the rise of hipsters (that’s unproven), the most important part is the awareness it brings to men’s health issues.
Movember has morphed from a campaign focused on prostate cancer to one that takes a broader look at a variety of critical men’s health issues. The change reflects the fact that men’s health is just too under-represented to use such a great campaign for a single condition. To be fair, men’s health flies under the radar often because men are too embarrassed, macho or afraid to talk about it. We are the ones who ignore the signs, tell everyone we are fine, and feel compelled to tough it out if something is bothering us.
One of the greatest success stories of Movember is just how effective it is. A 2013 survey showed that 99 percent of Movember participants used the campaign as a springboard to talk to someone about their health, while 62 percent sought the advice of a medical professional. And from a funds raised to people helped perspective, it is hard to find a more efficient campaign. Movember boasts that 90.5 cents of every dollar go to support men’s health programs.
I began my Movember campaign on November 1 with a fresh shave courtesy of my Harry’s blade and if you are so inclined you can support me or join the Team YMC.