October is mental health awareness month. This topic is certainly far less ‘taboo’ than it used to be. However, there’s still a lot of stigma around seeking help for mental health issues…

This particularly true for men with depression or other mental health conditions. They are reluctant to seek help as there is a belief that it will make them look “weak”.

“Traditional masculinity runs counter to acknowledging vulnerability, this stands in the way of getting help early, which is vital for a good prognosis,” says Janine Shamos, a Transformation & Resilience Coach and Trauma Counsellor.

“The patriarchal nature of South African society means that men are supposed to be strong, unbreakable, able to deal with whatever life throws at them.”

“A 2015 study published in the Community Mental Health Journal found that men are far more likely to feel embarrassed about seeking professional help. The study also found that men are more likely to endorse stigmatised views of depression.”

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“The problem with stigma (and self-stigma) is that it restricts men’s willingness to seek help. It also reduces treatment compliance, and deters men from confiding in friends and family. These are all major factors in alleviating depressive symptoms,” says Shamos. “This means that men are more likely to seek professional help only after a suicide attempt, or when they are no longer able to function in their work or personal environment.”

Men and depression: Who’s at risk?

Mental illness is a very common issue that at least one in four people will be affected by in their lifetime, according to the World Health Organisation. But only two in five of those affected will seek help.

The death of beloved comedian and actor, Robin Williams in 2014 due to suicide put a spotlight on depression and mental health. The world was shocked by the fact that someone who ‘seemed so happy’ and made other people laugh could have been battling such inner turmoil.

The tragic loss showed that anyone and everyone could be battling a mental health condition. Williams said, “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”

Robin Williams
Robin Williams arrives at the European Premiere of Happy Feet at the Empire Leicester Square
(Image source: magazinefeatures.co.za)

Signs to look out for in your partner:

“Depression can manifest differently in men and women,” says Shamos.

“Is he grumpy, irritable, and has no sense of humour? Does he drink too much or abuse alcohol?,” says Shamos.

“Maybe he physically or verbally abuses his loved ones. Perhaps he works all the time, or compulsively seeks thrills in high-risk behaviour. Or maybe he seems isolated, withdrawn, and no longer interested in the people or activities he used to enjoy. All of these can be signs of depression.”

General signs of depression:

  • Expressing a negative or a hopeless outlook
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyable hobbies and activities
  • Social and emotional isolation
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Eating too much or too little or poorly (junk food)
  • Expressing shame, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness
  • Talking about death or suicide (even in passing)

Signs of depression in men:

  • Sudden bursts of irritability, agitation, anger, rage, etc
  • Blaming others for personal problems
  • Feeling trapped
  • Unexplained pain and/or physical malaise
  • Feeling like a burden
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or an addictive behaviour (porn, sex, gambling, spending, etc.)
  • Extreme mood swings

Men with depression may turn to unhealthy coping skills

“Some men may turn to drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their emotional symptoms,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH). “While women with depression are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die by suicide because they tend to use more lethal methods.”

Raising awareness about depression and it’s impact on women and men

Over the past few years, a number of prominent celebrities and public figures have been outspoken about the need to erase the stigma around mental health.

In 1995, Princess Diana was one of the very first female role models to speak out about postnatal depression. Her determination to raise awareness around mental health was passed on to her sons. Prince William and Prince Harry as well as Duchess Catherine launched the “Heads Together” campaign in 2016.

“Too often, people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health,” Duchess Kate said during the launch. “This fear of judgment stops people from getting the help they need, which can destroy families and end lives. Heads Together wants to help everyone feel much more confident with their everyday mental health, and to have the practical tools to support their friends and family.”

Prince William opens up about his own mental health struggles

 

South African male celebs speak out about mental health struggles

In 2017, Trevor Noah revealed to DJ Fresh that the had struggled with depression. He said that he didn’t know that he was suffering from mental illness until he heard his hero Jim Carey talking about his own struggles. He was then better able to understand what he was going through himself.

Slikour – an SA rapper and former member of the award-winning group, Skwatta Kamp has also spoken out about depression. In a 2018 interview with TimesLive, he told the paper that his mental health battle nearly derailed his career and left him feeling “useless”

Another SA music artist, Tshego tweeted that a text from Ricky Rick helped set him on a path of healing during his battle with depression.

 

Recently, The Bachelor South Africa’s Lee Thompson, said he battled mental health issues following his appearance on the reality show. “I feel it’s important to speak out because as men we afraid to a lot of the time but at the end of the day we are all human and it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Lee told All4Women.

“By sharing this I want to help and inspire others to do the same and seek help and not be too proud to do so no matter who you are. It’s a real thing that many men try to bury, which only makes it worse.”

Lee says he will be revealing more about his battle in his upcoming book, The Truth Behind The Rose.

(Copyright : Aleksandr Davydov 123rf.com)

Causes of depression & suicide in South African men

“Relationships, finances, the challenges of work, or caring for sick relatives or children can all be stressors,” says Shamos.

“A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that losing a job increases the risk of suicide by two to three times – which is especially concerning given our economic climate, high rates of unemployment and COVID-related job losses.”

“Previous research has also found that men who are single, widowed or divorced are more likely to commit suicide, and breakdowns of relationships are more likely to cause men to kill themselves than women.”

Mental health in relationships: How you and your partner can cope with a crisis

How to support someone who is battling mental health issues & encourage them to seek help

“Talking to a man about his feelings can be tough,” says Shamos. “But you can’t help a struggling man if you don’t speak up, however difficult and anxiety-inducing that might be.”

She has the following tips to help approach the issue:

  • Tell him that you love him and care about him, and you are worried for his safety and well-being
  • Next, you can say that you think he is suffering from depression
  • Then you should list the signs of depression that you have seen him exhibit
  • If you’re worried about suicide, be direct. Ask him, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
  • Find articles or information to show him
  • For professional intervention, call SADAG on 0800 21 22 23 or visit sadag.co.za

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.