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Jul 06
Mental Health and South African Men: A Cause for Concern

​By Siyabonga Gema, HST Communications Officer


Socio-economic issues such as unemployment and inequality continue to ravage the country, giving rise to the already alarming rate of violent crime and the deadly monster of Gender Based Violence (GBV). Issues of abuse are most prevalent in poverty-stricken communities where the perpetrators are men who often have a financial hold over their victims.

The flip side of this, though, is that there are many other triggers. For some men, stress brought on by the added pressures of providing for their families during tough financial times, coupled with the dangerous notion that men should not speak out about their problems, lest they be seen as weak, sometimes also contribute to these and other issues. There is no definite clear cause for mental health issues among men, just like there aren't any for women. However, signs differ. According to the Mental Health Foundation (UK), while there isn't a different sort of 'male depression', some symptoms are more common in men than women. These include irritability, sudden anger, increased loss of control, risk-taking and aggression.

For millions of South African men, the only available stress relief may be the recreational use of dangerous substances like drugs and alcohol rather than talking about their problems. Drugs and alcohol abuse are synonymous with violence in South Africa. The men who don't succumb to drugs and alcohol, turn to suicide as an answer to their mental illnesses. The suicide rate in South Africa has increased drastically, with men leading the numbers. The South African Society of Psychiatrists says that South Africa is ranked number 10 on the list of countries with the most suicides with 23.5 suicides per 100 000 people. Of the 13 774 suicides reported in South Africa, 10 861 were amongst men. 

Men's mental health issues have previously been swept under the carpet or dismissed as signs of weakness, however, there is a growing need for men, and society as a whole, to take a different approach. Authorities are increasingly committing to initiatives aimed at empowering men to access mental health support. On the traditional front, cultural practices such as initiations and coming-of-age ceremonies need to be utilised as platforms to raise awareness of mental health issues in boys and young men. Traditional gender roles that place men under the expectation of being providers and breadwinners often lead them to neglect their own feelings and causes them to bottle up their emotions, risking an explosion.

In South Africa, there has been an increase in men-centred organisations and other structures that seek to bridge the gap between factors that isolates men vis-a-vis their mental health problems and help-seeking behaviour. Public-private partnerships, and increased funding to Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) are proving to be effective in addressing issues associated with men's mental health issues. Men who need mental health support are able to access a myriad of platforms. The following platforms are available for men, or those close to men who need mental health support:

  • Department of Social Development Substance Abuse Helpline: 0800 12 13 14 SMS 32312
  • South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG): 011 234 4837
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0800 567 567


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