Men in South Africa are suffering from major mental health issues and suicide

Men in South Africa are suffering from major mental health issues and suicide. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo

Men in South Africa are suffering from major mental health issues and suicide. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo

Published Nov 23, 2023


The rate of mental health issues among South African men is high, as is suicide, and November is the time attention is given to their well-being.

Also known as Movember, November has, in South Africa, been marked as the year during which men - young and old - are given much-needed attention, and everyone focuses on their health issues. The one major way is by encouraging them to grow their moustaches as a way of indicating that they are aware of their vulnerability as a sector of society.

“The traditional male gender roles include stoicism in the face of pain, and a reluctance to talk about or even acknowledge medical issues or concerns for fear of seeming unmasculine,” clinical coach at Kena Health Dr Schalk Burger said.

He said men were more likely to internalise their problems as compared to women, who were more open to sharing their issues and seeking help.

“In particular, men find it harder to seek help for mental and emotional issues, as well as sexual health. In the main, women have benefited more than men from the advances in medical care, with life expectancy for men lagging significantly behind women, at 76 versus 80 in the United States, and 59.46 versus 65 in South Africa.”

The Health Systems Trust also said millions of South African men turned to recreational use of dangerous substances like drugs and alcohol rather than talking about their problems as stress relief.

“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.”

According to the South African Society of Psychiatrists 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.”

Calls have been made to stop the trend of men's mental health issues being swept under the carpet or dismissed as signs of weakness, as the growing need for men - and society as a whole, to take a different approach is more apparent.

The Health Systems Trust said authorities were 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 platforms. The following platforms are available for men, or those close to men who need mental health support:

Burger said there were critical men’s health issues that needed to be highlighted during Movember and beyond, and they include mental health, prostate and testicular health, cancer, and cardiovascular health which affects the heart as well as the blood vessels, major causes of adverse health conditions and death. These, he said, were typically affected by the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries and the increased risk of blood clots, which could lead to strokes.

Pretoria News