Why men ignore mental health issues

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Nyakallo Matsoso, professional nurse in mental health for 24 years. Chairperson of the Free State Mental Health Review Board, author of Someone in my Head, a book written to create mental health awareness and destigmatise mental illness, and founder of Home of Sanity, a non-profit organization advocating for mental health.

October is Mental Health Awareness Month and this year the spotlight was especially on men and how they deal with mental health issues.

According to Bloemfontein resident, Nyakallo Matsoso, professional nurse in mental health for 24 years, men do not seek help for mental health problems because they are taught to toughen up and not expose their vulnerability from a very young age.

For example, if a girl falls and cries, we pick her up, embrace and comfort her. On the contrary, when a boy falls and cries, we are quick to say ‘come, boy, stand up, stop crying, girls will laugh at you. Boys don’t cry’.” She added that society has engraved into the mind of males that it is a weakness for men to express their emotions.

Alcohol and other substances have been used as a replacement by most men to either numb their pain or escape their reality temporarily.”

Matsoso is also chairperson of the Free State Mental Health Review Board, author of Someone in my Head, a book written to create mental health awareness and destigmatise mental illness, and founder of Home of Sanity, a non-profit organization advocating for mental health.

Matsoso said society expects men to be super strong beings who provide solutions to all problems, otherwise they’re not real men. Men not seeking help lead to a higher suicide rate and this is because they’re overwhelmed with emotions they cannot express and with societal expectations they’re battling to meet. “Our boys and men find it difficult to report cases of GBV and sexual assaults due to fear of being humiliated and belittled.”

Another Bloemfontein mental health activist and founder of Next Chapter Foundation, Tshepang Mahlatsi, agrees with Matsoso. He strongly believes men drink more than they should because they believe that alcohol is their “psychologist”.

Mahlatsi said that cultural norms, stereotypes, societal norms and standards are some of the reasons why men do not seek help. Sometimes men who do seek help for a specific issue, do not realise that therapy will lead them into looking at other underlying issues. Sometimes men do not seek help at all because they fear somebody else knowing about their most vulnerable side. “Other factors, like finances also contribute. Some men choose to rather provide for their families than paying to see a therapist.”

He explained that men dismiss their feelings and replace therapy with a coping mechanism like drinking, being aggressive, working too much, and so on. Matsoso concluded, “It is for all of us to change the narrative and raise our sons with an understanding that they are emotional beings and that experiencing and expressing their emotions is not a sign of weakness. It is up to us as women to support our partners and encourage them to open up. Let’s ask them how they feel, and really mean it.”

Corn Koteli

tshehla@centralmediagroup.co.za