Today, the International School of Lausanne is delighted to announce that our community has raised  CHF2038.5 for The Movember Foundation, the charity which, for twenty years, has been uniting “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas” in a global effort to raise awareness and funds for men’s health.  A movement which began back in 2003 with only thirty Mo Bros is now supported by over six million men worldwide who, for the month of November, sport a moustache as a symbol of solidarity and consciousness.  And, among them, are nineteen Mo Bros from the International School of Lausanne – including the victor of the Movember “Sponsor a Moustache” fundraising competition, Mr Foley (Secondary School Principal, Teacher of Economics), a.k.a. “The Fo-Mo”, who, with a grand sponsorship winning total of CHF661, will now be proudly parading his moustache till the Christmas holidays… (Mr Foley’s wife could not be reached for comment on this development at the time of going to press, but a rumour is circulating that a moustache-grooming kit will be in his stocking from Santa this year….)  

However, it is not only the moustachioed male teachers of ISL who have promoted men’s health; two of our Year 13 International School of Lausanne students, Gabriel and James, have also played a key role in raising awareness of men’s mental health issues. Keep scrolling to discover what inspired Gabriel to lead an assembly on Men’s Health, and to read James’ powerful personal speech, delivered at the assembly, on how he beat his content addiction and improved his physical and mental wellbeing.

Trigger Warning: The first part of this article contains discussions of sensitive content. If you prefer to avoid this, then continue reading after the “moustache mugshot montage”. Please note that helpful links to Mental Health Conversational Toolkits are provided at the end of this article.

The International School of Lausanne Men’s Health High School Assembly, which took place in early November, was led by Year 13 Diploma Programme student, Gabriel; Year 13 Diploma Programme Student, James; and faculty members, Mr Driscoll (Year 8 Level Leader, Teacher of Mathematics) and Mr Friend (Teacher of Global Politics, Teacher of Environmental Systems).

The assembly was the brainchild of Gabriel’s, who had recently asked the school counsellors whether a High School assembly had been held on the topic previously: “When they responded with unfortunately not, this equipped me with a determination to help give a voice for men who are suffering from mental health issues and don’t feel able to seek help. I wanted to raise awareness of an issue that not a lot of people talk about.”

“Every man has their own battle…It is important to know that asking for help doesn’t make you less of a man – quite the contrary.” (Gabriel, Year 13, Men’s Health Assembly leader)

The assembly was opened by Mr Driscoll (from 2.44), who bravely shared with his High School audience the deeply personal story of his friend Nick, a beloved husband, father, friend, and colleague, who took his own life due to mental health issues.  “Nick loved surfing; he loved teaching; and he loved his young family,” Mr Driscoll told his audience, as a sunlit selfie of Nick, with his arms wrapped around his two children, was shown on the screen. “In that part of the world, at that time, men were meant to be strong, and it was a sign of weakness to show that you had problems. In all the years that I knew him, he never once spoke to me about any of the problems that he had. Men were not meant to discuss at all how they felt, especially with their mates. Men were just meant to get on with it.”

Movingly speaking with controlled emotion, Mr Driscoll shared how, after a May holiday, Nick didn’t show up at school. Then, one week later, he killed himself. Nick’s death was a devastating loss for his family, the school, and the whole community. The people who had loved him struggled to understand the depths of suffering that led a man who seemed to live such a fantastic life to feel that the only recourse he had to cure his pain was to end his life.

What was clear, in the painful aftermath of Nick’s death, was that, in a time when there was a huge stigma around men’s mental health, Nick had felt he had to fight his illness alone. And that lonely fight was what ultimately defeated him.

“It makes me wonder,” said Mr Driscoll, “how different things could have been for Nick now.”

Concluding the incredibly important story that he had so courageously shared with his audience, Mr Driscoll wryly dedicated his (iconic, it should be said) horseshoe moustache to Nick, in whose memory he had cultivated it, and in the hope that the moustaches of Movember would serve as a reminder to all the members of his audience – brothers, sisters, friends, teammates… – of the importance of starting conversations about men’s emotional and mental health.

The ISL “Mo Bros” – Mr Driscoll, who shared the deeply moving and impactful story of his friend Nick’s secret battle with mental illness, is pictured middle row, second from right.

Gabriel then led an informative presentation (which can be seen from 6.20 in the video of the assembly) on men’s mental health, highlighting causes of poor mental health, and reinforcing Mr Driscoll’s powerful message of the need to raise awareness of mental and emotional health issues in men, normalising talking about these subjects.

“The key message I wanted my audience to take away,” Gabriel reflected afterwards, “was that every man has their own battle. These battles can seem small to some, but can be huge for others; and this makes it important to know that asking for help doesn’t make you less of a man – quite the contrary.”

Gabriel’s well-researched and factual presentation was followed by a speech from fellow Year 13 Diploma Programme student, James, who led by example, sharing a personal and honest account (see below) of how he overcame his content addiction, swapping scrolling endlessly through social media feeds, for improving his physical fitness and honing his skills in a range of video and music editing software.

“Mr Driscoll and James’ contributions were hugely valuable; although I have had some of my own personal mental wellbeing issues, I would not have had the courage to talk about them to the whole High School. What Mr Driscoll and James did is nothing short of incredible. Thanks to their speeches, more people were able to relate to the issue and connect to the facts I included in my presentation. Their contribution was essential for the success of this assembly.” (Gabriel, Year 13)

Ending the assembly on a note of levity, Mr Friend, delivered a witty and rousing Tribute to the Moustache (watch from 19.43), shared the Movember promotional video with the audience, and, ultimately encouraged everyone to support Movember by sponsoring their favourite ISL teacher moustache.

Showcasing a stately moustache of his own, Mr Friend closed the assembly on a pitch-perfect note of humour and inspiration, advocating for the Movember cause, and inviting the ISL community to vote for their favourite ISL teacher ‘tache.

And so, several weeks later, the Movember Foundation is about to receive a CHF 2038.5. Donation from the International School of Lausanne community, funds which will be invested by the charity into research and health services for prostate cancer, physical and psychological care for men and boys with testicular cancer, and into mental health and suicide prevention programs around the world.

It is essential, however, that though the first of December may mean the end for many of the ISL moustaches for another year, that the Movember conversations around men’s mental and emotional health do not end here.

We need to keep cultivating a culture at the International School of Lausanne, in our own communities, and beyond, where men and boys can talk openly to the people that they trust about how they are feeling, and know that they will be listened to, that their feelings will be validated, and that they will receive or be directed to the support that they need. 

To symbolise this ongoing commitment to men’s mental health awareness, a portrait gallery is on display in the ISL South Building, featuring impactful mental health stories from a range of male icons, from Jackie Chan, to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

“I didn’t know what therapy was going to do or not do for me, but I just got to the point where I said, ‘I don’t care what it feels like or what people say, I want to feel better,’ and I’m somebody that, if there’s one hundred different roads that I can take, I’m going to try every single one of them.” – 23-times Olympian Michael Phelps on his mental health journey.

Quick-scan QR links to a range of helpful websites are also on display, guaranteeing instant and easy access to expert advice and to help supply ISL’s young men and women with the conversational tools needed to start talking about thoughts and feelings with anyone that they are concerned about. These links are also shared at the end of this article.

To end the story of Movember at ISL, we can turn to the words of our Year 13 IB DP student, James, on how he overcame his content addiction – words of inspiration to anyone whose mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing are being harmed by the hours spent scrolling through the social media apps, which are so greedy for our attention, yet as stated by James, “give nothing back.”

Men’s Mental Health:

How I beat my content addiction

“Freeing myself from the grasp of a content addiction not only cleared my mind, but it allowed me to feel gratified. While addictive through short term happiness, content consumption is restrictive in that it takes time but gives nothing back.” – Year 13, James, opens up about his personal battle with content addiction below.

6 hours and 14 minutes a day.

43 hours and 38 minutes a week.

Almost four years ago, this was my phone screen time during a school week.

Just under two full days.

Content consumption was an addiction of mine for over a decade. Over the past three years, I have been able to overcome this addiction and strengthen myself mentally; and, in a sense, make myself feel more free.

Similar to many of you, I assume, I got my first phone when I was thirteen. I was urged by friends to download Instagram. And compared to the years I spent on YouTube on my mom’s iPad, it gave me a way faster rush of dopamine.

My need to fill time with entertainment escalated extremely quickly. Watching TikTok as soon as I woke up, brushing my teeth, walking to the bus; I would even find a Youtube video to listen to in the shower.

The thing is though, no one prompted me to stop. There was no one telling me it was a problem because I don’t think anyone really noticed, and even if they did they were in a similar situation. Days would really go by and I wouldn’t even remember what I had done because really I had done nothing.

Every day ended and I was unsatisfied with myself and what I had done. I was also unsatisfied in terms of my happiness, and it felt like the only way to feel better was to open social media again. In late 2020, after enough times of seeing people succeed in their own lives, while I watched them on my phone, I finally realised I needed to change.

My goal was to eliminate content consumption as a necessity because at that point it seemed like my entire life revolved around it. Initially, I thought it would be easy to just stop opening those apps on my phone, but nonetheless I would reach for my phone and open Instagram or TikTok without even making a clear decision to do so.

I eventually realised that if I truly wanted to escape my content addiction, I would need to delete the apps. I was so hooked on these apps though, that it took a lot more perseverance to delete them than I expected. I would tell myself that I needed them to talk with people or to stay informed about what was popular or not.

I finally overcame this internal conflict and deleted them, and it was a strange feeling. I would constantly take out my phone when I wasn’t doing anything, only to swipe through the home screen with no apps to open.

I was left with a hoard of free hours that I used to be wasting and I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Of course I spent more time on school work, but other than that, I felt like I had nothing to entertain myself during that time. I spent this new time exercising because it’s healthy and it also would help with my performance in basketball.

What I learned from this more voluntary exercise though is that I truly enjoy self improvement.

And by self-improvement, I don’t just mean improving your health and becoming more organised, but truly any aspect of yourself, whether it’s getting better at guitar or learning to drive; really anything. Being able to see results from hard work that you decided to put in. Seeing improvement is exciting, and, unlike content consumption, there is a feeling of satisfaction that comes after. I can feel proud of the time I just spent.

Exercise, unlike content consumption, brings a challenge, and the progression seen from consistent effort engages me. As I relieved myself from content consumption’s addictive nature, I learned that my love for self improvement stems from being able to be proud of what I do. Hard work, delayed gratification, willpower, and self control, are all involved in that process. Once I understood this concept, my perspective and life changed in the best way I could have hoped.

While exercise was the initial way I focused on self improvement, it is not the only method. Whether it’s on a computer, in a studio, or outdoors, what is important is growing myself.

I realised that instead of watching, from behind my phone, as others succeeded and improved, I could do the same. Exploring multiple fields, I learned to use After Effects and Premiere Pro for video editing, Fusion 360 for computer aided design, and FL studio for music production. The common factor across all of these was not only that I enjoyed them, but I was able to improve. The ability to compare myself to who I was before and say that I improved allows me to feel deserving of my happiness.

Freeing myself from the grasp of a content addiction not only cleared my mind, but it allowed me to feel gratified. While addictive through short term happiness, content consumption is restrictive in that it takes time but gives nothing back. As my goal in life is to be the best version of myself, I know now that putting in the work is not only necessary but what makes the journey interesting.

“I know now that putting in the work is not only necessary but what makes the journey interesting.” – Trading TikTok for personal improvement, James (centre, blue T-shirt) has used the time he spent scrolling to build up both fitness and skills, enjoying the benefits of the former in his basketball games.

The International School of Lausanne would like to thank everyone in our community who sponsored a Movember moustache – your donations will help support men and boys who are dealing with prostate cancer, testicular cancer, or mental health issues.

Get the tools you need to start a conversation today – click on the links below for tangible advice about how to talk about men’s mental health:

Give Us a Shout: How to create a safe space, start a conversation, and what questions to ask.

Mensline Australia: Tips for effective conversations with men.

Don’t Change Much: How to use S.T.A.R.T. to talk about mental health.

Smiling Mind: How to Validate Emotions (A key resource in ensuring that your responses to are supportive and constructive)