I wanted to post this last week in honour of mental health week, but my servers and hosts had other ideas – oh well….. the past is the past darlings.
So, I’m putting this out there this week because we can never have enough talk on mental health issues and awareness should not be confined to one week in a year. I know I write a lot about mental health issues and I don’t profess to be a professional know it all, I just feel some issues are too greatly daunting to be ignored and we can never have enough talks about them.
Recently I watched a short docufilm on the rise of suicide in men in Kenya, Nyandarua district. I was saddened not only by the statistics of it all, but the realisation that this could have been a problem brewing in a pot for several years but it’s only now coming to light; or it’s been known all along but like many cultural issues was buried under an avalanche of issues ‘best kept to family’, and now it’s an epidemic.
Suicide is a highly sensitive and complex issue complicated so by a multitude of several and varied contributing factors – e.g. debt and everything related to money/employment, infidelity and family related issues, helplessness – abandonment by a dear friend/family when one is at the height of psychological agony, feuds, loneliness, mental torment, and so on. According to WHO there’s a huge gender disparity in that more men than women commit suicide despite more women suffering from depression and more women attempting suicide. I don’t know why there is this disparity, but one can speculate that men are more successful in their suicide attempts because of the intent (actually wanting to die), and probably for women it’s more a cry for help than a desire to die.
There’s an urgent need for cultural unconditioning: because society is conditioned to think of men as free of human emotions and whoever exhibits any ‘feminine’ emotions and qualities is not man enough or somehow is incomplete or substandard. Our boys grow up hearing phrases like ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘man up’, ‘don’t be a cry bitch baby’, etc and are therefore conditioned to believe they are made of stone. And then life [mostly shit] happens, and because they are humans, they experience turmoil and since they can’t talk about it, lest they are seen as weak, they take the easier route – suicide – that way they don’t have to answer or be embarrassed because they are ‘not there’. This may sound simplistic but one major risk factor is communication or lack thereof. Studies have shown that more women than men are willing to talk to someone about problems, and more women than men seek help for mental health. Again, one can speculate that men prefer forever silence than air their dirty laundry – another cultural belief where men who talk about their feelings are referred to as effeminate and often ridiculed.
A dangerous trend is that rather than seek help through professionals most men self-medicate – statistics in this part of Kenya featured in that documentary shows that men abuse alcohol and drugs than any other part in the country. The sad thing is that the consumption of alcohol may offer temporary relief, but in actual fact what it does is compound the distress one is feeling, and once the alcohol wears off the tendency to end it all seems like a logical extension to a desperate situation.
I highly doubt there is a one fix-it-all solution to this problem, but cultural unconditioning is one thing society can do as a starting point. Men/boys are as human and important as women/girls – the plight of the girl child (very sad in many cases) has eclipsed the plight of the boy child. The men featured in that documentary were on average 35 – 45 years of age. The plight of the girlchild, especially in developing countries, (FGM, child marriages, education etc) has occupied the mind of the world in the last 50 years than any other time in history – in the process the plight of the boychild was neglected and in most cases men were made to feel inferior – might explain why most can’t handle rejection, and the answer to everything is either murder or suicide.
The government has a duty to its citizen to help in the much-needed cultural shift by funding and encouraging initiatives that see men as vulnerable members of society who might need help and resources. I know a few programmes exist but mainly these are only accessible to people with money. The government has a duty to facilitate programmes for all citizens. Another beneficial thing would be community initiatives where local leaders can start and facilitate programmes for the average person because I’ve heard there are fewer than 100 psychiatrists and fewer than 1000 psychiatrists nurses in the country; however I know there are people who don’t have to be professionals but are willing and able to help.
Most importantly it’s high time we are unconditioned to think men are super humans who don’t suffer distress and emotional turmoil.