Mental health afrobloggers
FEATURE

Male Mental Health – the unspoken truth

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

WHO

For many years mental health has been a taboo topic in the African context. One of the primary reasons has been the stigma surrounding people with mental health illnesses. The society ostracised depression and mental health problems, sometimes attributing it to witchcraft.

Lately, mental health is gaining more mainstream attention sadly because of increasing suicide cases. According to a WHO 2016 report which could be the latest available data the 6 African countries below made it into the top 13 of the highest suicidal countries in the world.

HIGHEST SUICIDE RATES IN AFRICA*
(per 100,000 population)
COUNTRYRATE
1.Lesotho28.9
2.Cote d’Ivoire23
3.Eq. Guinea22
4.Cameroon19.5
5.Uganda20
6.Zimbabwe19.1
*Age-standardised, WHO 2016

So much effort has been made to highlight the urgent need to address mental health problems, however much progress has been registered among women than man. This is due to a number of reasons among which social and economic problems rank high. Men tend to bottle up their feelings because society views such acts as manly and heroic. Any sentimental opening up is frowned upon hence most man suffer in silence.

I was devastated when a colleague lost her son to a mysterious death. He was single, and an accomplished academic, yet, he committed suicide in his car. Which left me wondering: Are we are giving men enough emotional support so that they can take care of themselves holistically? Man has been stereotypically defined by a patriarchal society, what does the modern man do when he does not fit in?

All too often we associate the care of the home and children being the primary responsibility of women. If a man for various reasons, takes up these roles, he is attacked by statements like he can’t take care of his family. He is not a real man. What kind of message is society sending to men who are different?

The world has changed women are increasingly becoming economically capable which has upset the power balance in many relationships, men unable to cope because of social expectations are folding under depression afraid to even share with anyone. The society must afford men the platforms to express their feelings and to be different. Men must be made to understand that drinking, barbecue, gig, or even PlayStation is not therapy.

Are we giving our men the support they need emotionally so they take care of themselves holistically?

In our fight to raise Mental Health awareness let us not leave men behind. Their trauma often finds ways to express itself sometimes through domestic violence sometimes through suicide. Let us be supportive to our male friends. There are initiatives such the friendship bench in Zimbabwe , Wellness Within and Beyond which are hosting regular seminars where issues affecting male mental health are discussed.

Some churches also offer counselling services to their congregants. Sometimes, these are not always accessible to those who need them the most because some churches are increasingly being viewed as the least safe places to be vulnerable.  Mental health is a fight for us all. Confidentiality and trust are values that can help us to get far in this fight.

Take time to invest in Mental Health First Aid. Just like in the case of a physical injury, there are steps we can take if we feel someone close to us is not coping with their mental health issue. In this fast-paced digital world of likes, and superficial social media attention, things are not always as they seem. Be there for someone!

How much do you know about Mental Health and the support systems in place in your country?

photo credit/ pexel.com

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