Men everywhere are growing moustaches for Movember – the annual campaign to raise awareness for men’s health issues such as testicular and prostate cancer.
But this year, Stephen Clews of Aldergrove is using his moustache to focus on a health issue above the waist.
The 31-year-old served two deployments in Afghanistan as a sergeant with the Canadian Armed Forces.
Upon returning home, he watched his fellow troops suffer with mental illness like depression and PTSD, as well as struggled through his own battles.
It was when one of his troops committed suicide that Clews hit rock bottom, and turned to alcohol.
He said his anger, and inability to talk about it, hurt his relationships with his family, wife, and friends.
“I hated my life here, I hated the fact I couldn’t help my troop when he killed myself… I missed the rush of being overseas,” he said.
He sought counseling through the Veterans Transition Network and began advocating for other veterans’ mental health, teaming up with the Movember organization through a grant last year.
That grant sent a him and other veterans to London, to re-enact experiences from overseas on stage for Prince Harry and other members of the royal family.
This year, the group did the same for Members of Parliament in Ottawa, also funded by Movember.
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Clews, and other members of performance group Contact!Unload! performs for Prince Harry.
The same performance group is scheduled to appear next year at the Invictus Games in Toronto – a sporting event founded by Prince Harry featuring military veterans.
Having the chance to advocate for veterans in the highest level of government meant a lot, Clews said.
Now, while he studies his second year of nursing at the University of the Fraser Valley campus in Chilliwack, he’s trying to give back to the organization that helped him, starting with a moustache and a donation page.
The Movember movement is also focusing on mental health this year.
“’In the battle against testicular cancer, and prostate cancer, we’re winning,’” Clews said Movember co-founder Adam Garone – who’s also a veteran – told him. “‘But when it comes to mental health, we’re losing that battle.”
Money raised this year will in part fund several Canadian organizations such as the Global Health and Wellbeing Survey, Kid’s Help Phone and the Men’s Depression and Suicide Network.
For Clews, Movember is a way of simply accepting that mental health is a real and serious problem affecting many men.
“(It’s about) trying to bridge that gap saying, ‘It’s okay to first say it’s okay to feel those emotions,’ so we can get you the help you need when you need it to make sure issues don’t get worse. And it’s okay to have a disease – you can’t help it.”