Picture: freepik – Suicide rates indicate that millions of silent sufferers are men, and it is past time for them to seek the help they need, the writer says.
By Nokuthula Pheza
It has been slightly over a year since the tragic passing of our beloved Ricky Rick. The Hip hop star died last year on the 23rd of February in Johannesburg after he took his own life. Various people who were close to Ricky confirmed that he had suffered from depression for a while before he finally decided to end it all. Tragically, Ricky Rick was not the only icon to take his life last year. South Africa mourned the passing of Patrick Shai before Ricky and Siyabonga Zubane later in May.
How these icons passed shows that there is yet another pandemic that faces South Africa – Mental health. President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed this problem when giving the State of The Nation Address (SONA) this year. He declared that more attention must be given to mental illnesses. He further stated that we must raise awareness and fight the stigma associated with mental health.
This is a great start because according to the South African Federation for Mental health (SAFMH.org), the stigma around mental health illness is the leading reason why South Africans do not go out to find help when they are faced with mental health issues.
According to the 2019 World Health Organisation’s Global Health Estimates suicide report, 13,774 people committed suicide in South Africa in 2019. Of those, 10,861 were men. Furthermore, studies show that more men than women commit suicide.
In the South African context, this could be attributed to what Kopano Ratele refers to as systematic violence – that the government has failed to love its people. This is probably why South Africa is ranked amongst the most unhappy countries in the world according to the World Happiness Report. Furthermore, it is ranked the world’s most unequal country according to the World Bank.
South Africa suffers from a lot of social ills such as the high number of service delivery and workers protests, high unemployment rate, rampant crime, Gender-Based Violence (GBV), lack of good public health facilities and a lack of good public school education. This is according to an article published in the Daily Maverick.
On top of these social ills, add the fact that South Africa has a shortage of psychologists. Furthermore, accessing psychological help without medical aid is almost impossible. Sometimes it is even difficult to access psychological treatment with medical aid. Amy Green on News24 highlights the issue of how expensive mental health issues can be even when a patient has medical aid. This highlights the failure of the government to prioritize and subsidise the costs of mental health issues.
Maybe more men are capable of taking their own life because they are braver than women or perhaps they are more aggressive and violent? Just the fact that men are perpetrators of violence in most GBV cases says a lot. Studies done in South Africa show that men displace their economic frustrations onto their female partners.
But really, whom or what do we blame for our men ending their life? Do we blame the government and say that it is not doing enough for us as a country? Do we blame their lovers for cheating on them for money-related reasons? Or perhaps we blame their ex-partners for keeping their children away from them because they cannot afford to pay maintenance? Or is it the fault of hegemonic ideas of being a man?
Social norms dictate to men how to act and how to feel. Hegemonic ideas about being a man emphasise that men do not cry, men are strong, men must provide, protect and dominate. Dominating means that they can never be seen showing emotions because “emotions are for the weak”. We live in an interesting world whereby women are allowed to be emotional, but men are somehow finding peace and joy in a coffin. Men suffer in silence.
Our new reality is harsh. Apart from dealing with the issue of unemployment or low salary paying jobs, men must deal with financially needy partners, family members who never stop asking for money and societal standards set so high that it is difficult for a person working one job to meet.
After all, to be seen as a man, as a “good man”, one must endlessly provide financial support for family and extended family. The goodness of people has been reduced to financial means.
Social media hashtags emphasise “Indodamust” which translates to: “A man must”. It is such societal expectations that make men feel like less of a man when they are unable to live up to these. They cannot talk about their current harsh circumstances because “men don’t cry”. So, they simply respond to this perceived threat of being seen as “less of a man” by committing suicide.
Some may argue that men do speak up when they are under pressure. They may argue that a men’s actions speak for him as men are violent when they are experiencing financial strain. My argument here is that men do not talk until it is too late. They do not use words to communicate. And when they do talk, society does not accept them, it sees them as less of a man.
Let us normalise loving and welcoming men who are struggling. Let men take a stand too by redefining what it means to be a man. Let us listen to men when they speak, even when they are not speaking. We need to be “woke” enough to see when a man (even a woman) is struggling and let us help them.
Nokuthula Pheza is a student at the University of Johannesburg studying towards a Master’s in Sociology. Research interests are mainly on masculinities.