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By Dan Carter
I've done plenty of charity work throughout my rugby career, but I've never actually had to grow a moustache for one before. That, in itself, is quite an intriguing process - especially if you struggle in the facial hair department like I do.
Like many others, I started growing a mo in November (although I admit I struggled at first) without a huge understanding of what Movember actually does. You know, those guys that encourage people to grow moustaches for a month and then it's all done and dusted for the year? Well, not exactly. It turns out this isn't just a one-month long thing. No, this is a topic of conversation that needs constant attention. And Movember is something that's much closer to home than a lot of us realise - myself included.
My father had prostate cancer. As you can imagine, it was a tough time. I knew that cancer research and support was just one of the many things that Movember works on. So that was what initially encouraged me to get involved by starting my personal donation page.
But, as I quickly discovered, my involvement in the organisation wasn't going to stop there. Upon doing some research, I came to realise the incredible work Movember does around men's mental health as well as cancers.
And while it's cancer that obviously hits closer to home for me, it was actually the statistics surrounding mental health that grabbed my full attention. They're scary. Really scary. We lose a man every minute to suicide globally. And three out of four people that take their own lives are male. I know we're in the midst of a global pandemic at the moment, but this also feels like some sort of global crisis.
That being said, we're fortunate enough to be in a time where we can start to open up a bit more - especially as men. Us blokes, we haven't exactly done that well in the past when it comes to talking about our feelings and emotions.
You can't deny that there's a stigma there. But at the same time, that stigma really shouldn't exist. Movember is about more than just growing a mo. It's about raising money and awareness for a cause that will perhaps touch all of us at some point in our lives.
Don't get me wrong, these times of uncertainty definitely doesn't play into the hands of charities with regards to generous donations. But for me, I just want to help wherever I can. So if I can spread Movember's message and raise awareness about an important issue then hopefully that helps just a little bit.
Enter, #keeptheballgoing. This was my own concept that I introduced which encourages people to check in with their mates. How? Well, it's simple. All you've got to do is video yourself catching a ball and passing it on to three mates who will do exactly the same in their own clips. This creates a kind of chain - a bond - that connects people. It's a fun, light-hearted way of getting people talking because that's what it's all about: Interacting, communicating, checking in. Especially when we're all locked up indoors. We need to be reaching out more, no doubt about it, and this is just one way of doing that.
And don't forget that athletes are no different to anyone else - we hide our emotions too. We box them in. We often feel like it's a little bit awkward to talk openly about potential problems that we're facing. When you're at the highest level in your chosen field of work, whatever that may be, there's always going to be ups and downs.
From huge achievements to serious setbacks, as humans we're not engineered to be constantly happy 24/7. Even for me, this year didn't exactly go how I had planned after being forced back to New Zealand when the season was cancelled in Japan. So while we're all in different circumstances, everyone needs to throw their support behind friends and loved ones whenever possible.
For me, I was fortunate enough to have amazing people around me to help me through the rough times. From injuries or lack of form to the stresses of what life may look like post my professional sporting career - these moments are challenging. But there's nothing wrong with that. Throughout my career I've learned to embrace those challenges and all the emotions that come with it.
The awareness in men's mental health is definitely growing and there's a lot more people talking about it. But unfortunately the stats don't seem to be changing that much. Until they start changing, that's when we'll truly know that we're moving in the right direction. So people have to understand that this isn't just a month-long thing - reaching out to your mates in November is great, but let's continue to do it for the other eleven months of the year. You never know, it could save a life.
To get involved, upload your best creative ball trick or pass - in any sport - to social media with the hashtag #KEEPTHEBALLGOING and tag three mates to check in with this Movember. To donate to Dan's hairy efforts, visit movember.com/m/dancarter348