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Hidden in Plain Sight - The Symmetry Between Movember and Mental Illness

13/11/2014 11:50 GMT | Updated 12/01/2015 10:59 GMT

It's approaching the middle of Movember and the desensitisation to unexpected moustaches has set in. Each year, it happens a bit faster. The first one or two you see make you wince, then you remember why that otherwise compliant looking male has a Dickensian affectation of virility atop his mouth. Every subsequent mo you henceforth see has an ever-diminishing impact and by the last week of the month, you're really not registering anything at all.

As with Movember moustache blindness, the more you see anything, the less you notice it. Whether it's an incredible piece of architecture you walk past every day, the arrow in the Fed Ex logo, or a person in your office presenting the symptoms of a mental health problem, it's easy to just stop noticing. Fittingly then, Movember this year has a renewed focus on mental health.

The fact that many symptoms of common mental health issues can and will be dismissed as something trivial and harmless mean even a very public crisis may go unnoticed - the "quirky impulsiveness" of a manic episode, the "clinginess," of someone in the depths of depression, the "unreliable friend" that's actually battling a severe anxiety disorder, or the "just a bit stressed with work" drinking habits of an alcoholic - these are all dangerously convenient ways to explain away a person's crisis.

It's not that we don't care, it's just that mental health problems (and physical problems) can be hidden in plain view, even from the person suffering. Our consumer habits say a lot about our ability to miss the obvious. There's a health app that helps you monitor via wearable tech your lifestyle habits, such as alcohol intake, smoking and activity level. I know we're busy people nowadays, but the popularity of such innovations proves we're more than capable of overlooking things we should be taking notice of in the first place - whether it's our resting heart rate after climbing the stairs or our ability to catch the bus without almost blacking out.

So it's good that for the first time in the UK, Movember will make an investment in mental health causes as well as the cancer-related causes it traditionally supports, with the aim of encouraging men to open up about mental health, something we're traditionally rubbish at.

There's a lot men can learn from women when it comes to talking about mental health. Women are better at getting support and tackling mental health issues. According to a study published in the Healthcare, Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal, men are over-represented in suicide and secondary mental health statistics, but under-represented in primary care. Three quarters of people who commit suicide are men. Men are 50% more likely than women to be detained and given compulsory psychiatric treatment. Men are suffering but they're not speaking up until it's too late.

According to men's grooming specialist Poised, 4 million moustaches have been grown for Movember. Even if you're sick of the photos on Facebook, should seeing one daft 'tache make someone feel more comfortable speaking up about their own mental health, the wearer has done his job.

The event has raised over £345 million to date and in 2013 alone, it raised £20.4 million. According to health and wellbeing mutual community Benenden, £15 million of that went to research and community support initiatives.

So if you're already bored of spotting soup strainers on the way into work, why not keep your eyes open instead for the 1 in 4 men and women showing signs of a mental health problem? You never know who might need your attention.