Men's Health Awareness Month - Q&A 002 with Andrew Cowderoy
November is Men's Health Awareness Month. Did you know that globally, more than 1.4 million men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year? According to Movember.com, it is the second most common cancer in men worldwide. The risk of developing it increases with age but that does not mean it only affects old men. Not everyone experiences symptoms, so it is important to have a routine PSA test to detect prostate cancer early.
In our 4-part series highlighting Men's Health Awareness Month, Sophia Bullard, Crew Health Programme Director for the UK P&I Club, is interviewing some men across the maritime industry in a short Q&A session on the subject of wellbeing.
Our second interviewee is Andrew Cowderoy, Maritime Professional and Entrepreneur.
1. Give us a short background of you and your career history?
Coming from a family with over 155 years in shipping, you could say it was in the blood. One of my earliest memories was of being given a book on Tugboats!
Around the age of 10, my sister and I launched a ship in Glasgow and in my early years at school I have fond memories of going around Fergusons Shipyard with AHTs and PSV’s being built. In 2012 I went to sea as a cadet and in 2013 I transitioned ashore due to health reasons. Since then, I have audited Private Maritime Security Companies, worked as a consultant and am a strong supporter of seafarers' mental health and well-being.
I’ve worked alongside the Marine Society, to support Seafarers coming ashore and developed technology to monitor Seafarer COVID and Mental Health. It’s been a rocky and bumpy road…. Who knows what is next?
What I do know, shipping is like a magnet and keeps pulling me back.
2. What does Men's Health Awareness Month mean to you?
Movember, Men’s Health Awareness Month, is a month that kick-starts the thought in men across the UK and worldwide about men’s mental and physical health. It’s a start of a movement, a strong reminder every year that us men need to engage, feel and look after ourselves better.
3. In your opinion, what do you think is the most common misconception about men's health and wellbeing?
Ignoring the signs of wellbeing and the misconception of thinking the problem can be fixed overnight. The “Stiff British Upper Lip” thing whereby we tell ourselves, “...not going bother with that” or “...everything is going to be OK” and “there’s nothing to worry about...”.
4. Do you think the stigma surrounding men's mental health has improved over the last five years? What more can be done?
I do think it has improved to a certain degree. It is positive to hear about and see action is starting to be taken for our colleagues at sea. However, I strongly believe a lot more can be done to remove the stigma, encourage the conversation, and help maritime professionals at home in the UK, worldwide and at sea.
I have found that we are very quick to jump trying to solve the problem (i.e., mental health first aid training). If we are having to do first aid, we have missed the point and the opportunity of prevention. We need to encourage more men to stand up, talk, share and lead by example across the industry and world to show that it is alright to talk about how we are feeling – because often we are feeling the same thing or have had similar experiences.
If we are able to encourage more men to talk, and teach them to talk, feel and engage then we are preventing the need for first aid training. For generations, around the world men have been taught not to feel or show emotions. If we break down that barrier and allow ourselves to be more open, then we are making a huge step in society.
5. Do you have any coping strategies to improve your own health?
One coping strategy for me is to think of how I dealt with difficult mental and personal situations in the past. Being bullied and teased from a very young age, I learned very quickly how to shut feelings out, shapeshift, adapt to the surroundings and not be true to myself. However, that isn’t healthy – it is much better to be honest and open with oneself.
Yoga has been a hugely beneficial tool for my mental and physical health. People hold a huge amount of stress in their bodies. Through dedicated, mindful, yoga practice, where I focus on the breath, flowing with it, and setting a clear intention, I have become more open-minded. A successful yoga meditation leaves a feeling that I carry throughout the rest of my day. It’s a feeling of being open and more relaxed with ease to move through life and “roll with the punches”.
Another coping strategy for me is talking and sharing my feelings. It sounds simple but for 20 years I never did it, and it is something I have to teach myself to do.
Lastly, another technique I love is cold water therapy. Some say a 2-min cold shower will suffice but having spent a year swimming in the Lochs of Scotland all through winter in 2-degree water, I know to feel the true benefit, the water has to be very cold.
6. What would you like to change about your own health in the future?
I’d like to continue my practice in becoming more open through the power of yoga, talking and feeling. Also building mental resilience and to be true to myself. I’d also like to significantly improve my physical strength and endurance.
A strong mind = a strong body
An open body = an open mind.
7. How do you unwind?
It depends on the occasion, the mood and the feeling. It could be heading out on the mountain bike, or going for a blustery walk, hitting the gym, practising some yoga or simply kicking back in front of a fire with the family and a wee dram.
8. Tell me about the last thing that made you smile/laugh?
Seeing my wife and daughter laugh and smile together. It brings so much joy to my heart.
To learn how we can take action, and for more resources on Men's Health and prostate cancer, visit the Movember webpage.