- 12 Oct 21
Talented melodic house and techno producer Zenna (aka Jack O’Connor) has attracted considerable attention since releasing his first two singles this year. Now, his involvement with Movember in Ireland is taking the campaign to new heights.
Zenna is a man on a mission. Following the release of two singles already this year – 'About You' and 'Dawn Moon' – the emerging Irish producer now shifts his attention to the Movember campaign. It is, as they say, a big undertaking!
Right now, the focus is on driving support for the upcoming Movember campaign. The original Movember idea is that you grow a 'tache – and raise funds for Movember by getting family, friends and anyone else you can reach out to, to sponsor that noble endeavour! Needless to say, the more dramatic or impressive the moustache the better.
Nowadays, there are many different ways you can join in the moustachioed fun, under the headings Grow A Mo (your face will raise funds and awareness for men's mental health), Move for Movember, Host A Mo-ment and Mo Your Own Way among them.
The important thing is to do it now! Go to movember.com to sign up...
Zenna (real name Jack O'Connor) is the Irish Country Director for the inspirational global charity. In that role, he has developed a comprehensive understanding of men's mental health projects, while also exploring funding options for testicular and prostate cancer research.
Kicking off in Melbourne, Australia back in 2003, Movember has since grown to become one of the most respected NGOs in the world. Travis Garone and Luke Slattery gathered 30 of their friends to participate in a quest to bring the moustache back into fashion while raising money for a brilliant cause – and the rest is history. What began as a bit of fun (and an opportunity to have a few beers) has grown into a worldwide mission to offer happier, healthier and longer lives to men.
Jack fills me in on the background. Movember was initially met with incredible support in Australia, the US, the UK and Canada, having significant impact for men's mental health and cancer research, with over three million 'Mo Bros' and 'Mo Sisters' participating in those five years alone. In 2008, New Zealand and the Emerald Isle became Movember satellites orbiting around the "Big 4" markets.
Through funding from Movember, breakthrough projects have broken new ground in the science world. By 2010, the University of Michigan had confirmed that there are over 25 different types of prostate cancer. 2011 saw Movember complete the world's first prostate cancer genome mapping project. FDA approval was secured in 2019 for two drugs used to treat advanced prostate cancer (Olaparib and Rucaparib). Meantime, campaigns led by Movember, encouraging the early detection of prostate and testicular cancer, have saved countless lives.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Tackling mental health issues among men is another battle-ground, but the Movember crew are up for the challenge. “As the world’s leading men’s health organisation we simply had to address the fact that approximately three quarters of suicides are men,” Jack says. “This is an incredibly complicated issue to resolve, and there isn’t going to be one silver bullet, but by speaking more openly about suicide and by shifting the culture of men talking about their mental health, we can collectively have a significant impact.”
There's a strong musical representation among Movember's Irish ambassadors, with Josh Gray, Arveene, Micheál Quinn (drummer for Dermot Kennedy), Rob de Boer and members of Wild Youth all on board. And of course Jack himself will join the line-up as Zenna for the Movember launch on October 29th in Pygmalion.
His production work has been received well and was recently featured in the Tales of Romance series, with the fourth edition released by collaborative label XYZ and curated by When We Dip. Speaking to him over Zoom, his trademark moustache stands out immediately.
“I first took part in Movember with some friends back in 2012,” Jack tells me. "I later joined the Ireland team in a supporting role, straight out of college the following year – before taking over in 2018. It’s grown quite a lot since then, with support almost doubling every year – which is amazing.
"This is my eighth campaign," Jack adds, "and I've been touched in one way or another by prostate cancer, testicular cancer through friends and family during that time-frame. It’s been interesting to see how the mission of Movember has evolved in terms of its importance to me personally. I'm genuinely so proud to have played a part in advancing the message around men’s mental health over the last eight campaigns."
While the peak of activities happens on the run-up to and during November, running the charity here is a hectic year-round activity. In addition to the inevitable administration workload, there's constant PR activities as well as marketing on buses and billboards, radio and television ads and lots more besides to be taken care of.
"With the Movember campaign, I spend the year lining up each domino," Jack says, "and then on the 1st of November we knock the first domino and it all starts to fall into place. For most people Movember starts on the first of November – but for me it’s the culmination of 11 months of work."
The isolation enforced on so many by the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a significant increase in mental health struggles worldwide, alongside a delay in scans and testing for many health conditions - including cancer screenings. How does Jack view the evolution of Movember, given the changes in men's role in society since its creation.
“The perception of men’s health – and particularly men’s mental health – has changed enormously and I think Movember has had a really big part to play in that," Jack explains. "We were acutely aware of the mental health risk the pandemic posed and fast-tracked many of our mental health resources, so they would be available to support men around the world through that extraordinarily difficult period.”
While we’ve achieved a lot and are certainly going in the right direction, there’s still plenty to be done. Across the world, we still lose a man to suicide every single minute of every day. That’s over 500,000 men every year.
"I’m constantly surrounded by people that are engaged in dialogue," he adds, "and who are pro-actively trying to change things – so it’d be very easy for me to fall into this mentality of seeing the conversation as pervasive. However, the reality is that communities of men all over the world, including in Ireland, still need to receive our message. The world is changing for men's mental health, but you can sum it up best by saying 'a lot done, more to do'."
Given the proactive connections that he has with mental health organisations and with the importance of positive messaging, it'd be all too easy to assume that Jack O'Connor has the tools to cope with anxiety and low moods at his disposal.
"Pandemic aside, I’m as susceptible as anyone else to feeling like shit and struggling on any given day," Jack admits. "Especially if I go out for drinks of a Friday night, I’ll be suffering with the fear for days afterwards. There were definitely low points for everyone throughout Covid, but I’ve got a fairly good idea of how to pull myself out of that.
"For me, diet and exercise are huge," he riffs. "When I fall into eating unhealthy food and I stop exercising, they’re the first two things that I need to fix to get me back on the right track. Sleeping pattern as well. Particularly with music, I’d be guilty of staying up pretty late at night. I kind of end up in the zone – but then I look at the clock and it’s 5am. That’s a sure way to send me out of whack.”
"Giving yourself a break is key," he emphasises. "Everyone has creative or professional goals, but that can be your downfall sometimes. When I'm overly-focused on my aims, I put myself under massive pressure to have high quality releases ready. It was at the point sometimes, where I wasn’t even enjoying the process. It’s a cycle of being stressed out about your music and then being so out of the groove to the point where you can’t make the music you want. Just be kind to yourself and don't let your objectives meddle with your inner peace."
Being at the epicentre of the Movember community in Ireland, Jack gets the opportunity to speak to those lifted up by the charity's campaigns almost every day.
"Some of our MoBros or MoSisters have lost their fathers to prostate cancer and a lot of guys themselves have gone through testicular cancer," he sighs. "We also have people who have been through really difficult periods of poor mental health and have nearly taken their own lives or have lost their friends, brothers, dads or husbands to suicide. I’m surrounded by people who have had a very much-lived experience. The majority of people have been touched by one of the issues Movember advocates for. I think that speaks to why the campaign is so supported every year."
The lockdowns in Ireland forced many men to retreat further into themselves, often without their familiar support systems around them to ease the emotional and mental burden. One of the primary aims of Movember is to urge boys and men of all ages to learn to speak about their emotions.
"At the end of the day we’re social animals," Jack says. "Men tend to socialise in person and we’re less likely to pick up the phone for a chat. That’s not really within our culture. And It’s hard to have a level of sincerity in an environment like a WhatsApp group chat.
"To speak to the pandemic," he adds, “Movember’s mental health strategy takes an upstream approach, where we aim to reduce the number of men who need to avail of the existing crisis support services. This is largely based on prevention and early intervention, by opening up the conversation around men’s mental health, giving guys the tools to effectively support their friends who are going through a tough time and by addressing some of the key risk factors for men’s mental health. For many guys this is uncharted water – they’ve never had these conversations before and so we can offer a roadmap to navigate this. We aim to up-skill guys to support their friends effectively to get the help they need.”
Speakeasy events, trained WhatsApp responses and live interactive conversations are just some of the initiatives started by Movember to carry out this form of training. Critically for women, the charity is also helping new fathers to cope with the transition into parenthood.
"The birth of a new child was identified as a key risk factor in men’s mental health," Jack says. "We developed Movember Family Man to help dads with the transition to fatherhood. The birth of a chid naturally comes with new stressors and typically at this time men become more socially withdrawn and so stress increases while the support network fades. By bringing attention to this we can ensure new dads are staying conscious of their mental health as they venture into fatherhood. Conventionally, a lot of the parenting resources are developed with a maternal lens, and so we needed to develop something to support new dads with that transition.”
"We’re also developing something similar at the moment to help men develop more healthy relationships," Jack adds. "The breakdown of a relationship is one of those things that can trigger an episode of poor mental health. This will be launched some time in 2022. I'm really excited about that programme, because I’ve seen how a poor relationship – and certainly the poor breakdown of a connection – can have a very, very serious impact on men."
Movember has made incredible strides in cancer research since it started nearly two decades ago. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men globally, with more than 1.3 million men diagnosed with it every year. Across Ireland, more than 30,500 men are living with – and beyond – this disease. As for testicular cancer, it remains the most common type of cancer affecting men aged 15-39.
"The effects of prostate and testicular cancer treatment can have a massive impact mentally" O'Connor says. "That’s something we’ve always been aware of. The approach towards male mental health and early detection of cancer is strikingly similar. With prostate cancer, what we really needed was for men to be aware of it and go to a doctor and take action around their health. If you catch testicular cancer early-intervention will save your life. Prostate cancer is an incredibly challenging diagnosis but if caught early it is treatable.
Whether he is speaking as Zenna or Jack O'Connor, the man who runs Movember in Ireland is clearly passionately committed to the cause.
"Raising awareness around the behaviour we want to change in men is vitally important," he says. "I like to say that the guys that grow moustaches become walking, talking billboards for men’s health. They help us to start that conversation. That's what the Movember campaign is all about: encouraging men to take ownership, to be more proactive around their health and to take action when they need to. Far too many men are suffering in silence and seeking help far too late – if at all."
Jack O'Connor smiles. You can imagine it easily as the look on his clubbing alter ego, Zenna's face, just after he has launched a favourite track – and watched the audience starting to throw every kind of freedom-loving shape they can muster. Sometimes life really is good.
"Movember’s mission is to create a world where men live happier, healthier, longer lives," he says, with emphasis. "Right now, men are dying on average six years younger than women so we want to bridge that gap. We aim to reduce the number of men dying prematurely by 2030 and with the support of the Movember community we will achieve this."
Remember: to join Movember Ireland's campaign, visit ie.movember.com/. The time for action is now!