By Willemien Jansen – HST Copy and Content Editor
Suicide is an often misunderstood and stigmatised cause of death, even though it is one of the leading causes of death globally. In 2019, South Africa ranked 10th according to the suicide rates by country (World Population Review), at a rate of 23.5 per 100 000 people. Its prevalence among men is disproportionately higher than among women, according to the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP). But, why is that?
The suicide crisis amongst men in South Africa was brought into view in 2022 when IOL published an article about South African men in the entertainment industry that died by suicide over a short period of time. These included hip hop pioneer Riky Rick, veteran actor Patrick Shai, Arendsvlei actor Ceagan Arendse and Yizo Yizo actor Jabu Christopher Kubheka.
Dr Talatala from SASOP says that risk factors for suicide include unemployment and occupational issues, divorce and adverse childhood experiences. "The tools used for surveys for depression and for diagnosis of depression are not designed to pick up 'male depression' as men are likely to present with substance abuse, risk-taking behaviour, poor impulse control, anger, and irritability. Yet even though not reported in surveys, many of those men dying by suicide are due to depression."
Dr Talatala goes on to say that "men don't seek help due to the 'macho male stereotype' in society expecting men to 'man up' and adopt the 'boys don't cry' mentality. It's this attitude of men portrayed as being brave and fearless that leads to men considering themselves in a negative light if they suffer from mental health conditions. And for this very reason, they see it as putting themselves in a vulnerable position when seeking help." SASOP urges men to speak up before it's too late, and break the stigma that it's 'unmanly' and a sign of weakness to ask for help.
In a discussion with eNCA, Nicolene Trom from the Umntu Ngumntu Ngabantu Foundation said that men don't know how to speak about the things that make them angry. "Where men are concerned, they are unable to speak out and say 'these are the things that make me angry'", says Trom. Men therefore have no outlet for their feelings and suppress their emotions.
Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to die by suicide, according to an article published by The Hill. Cassey Chambers, The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) operations director, told IOL that men are five times more likely to die by suicide than women. "They often use more aggressive methods. While women may be diagnosed with depression more than men, men don't speak about their feelings till it is too late," said Chambers.
Signs of depression in men look slightly different from that in women and loved ones should know how to recognisethem. According to Healthline, symptoms can be divided into four categories.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact The South African Depression and Anxiety Group on 0800 121 314, or send an SMS to 32312 and a counsellor will call you back.
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