THE MALE MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA
Depression is among the most common mental illnesses globally, affecting more than 1.9 million people in Kenya alone. In the past decade, cases of suicide in the country have risen at an alarming rate of 58 per cent with data showing that more men are likely to die from suicide than women.
According to mental health advocate Victor Khamisi, the problem could lie on the extensive burden of masculinity, which has often been used against men as they are viewed as immune to and devoid of feelings or expressing emotions.
“Men are constantly stigmatized and seen as superhuman. However, when left alone, men battle serious trauma that leads to depression and in some extreme cases, suicide. I know this because I have experienced it before,” he said.
Psychiatrist Lukoye Atwoli says depression in men requires keen observation, noting that it is crucial for people to familiarize themselves with the diagnostic criteria in persons presenting with symptoms. Depression is mainly characterized by the onset of low moods or loss of interest in usual activities. This is accompanied by other behaviour including changes in appetite or weight, changes in sleep quality and quantity, excessive guilt, sense of worthlessness or hopelessness, irritability and often suicidal thoughts or behaviour.
CAUSES OF MENTAL ILLNESSES
The causes of mental illness in men can be classified in three broad categories that interact with each other in complex ways; The first is biological, which include genetic factors which determine one’s predisposition or risk of getting a particular illness.
“Other biological factors include brain development and structure, illnesses that could have affected the nervous system, head injury, and general state of physical health, including the presence of chronic illnesses,” Dr Atwoli noted.
Psychological and social factors also play a role in mental illness, where the former involves aspects of personality and coping mechanisms, while the latter includes how episodes of illnesses are dealt with as well as the state of the environment of the victim.
“Where you grew up or lived, who you live with, what is considered socially acceptable behaviour, and quality of interpersonal relationships are important social factors that can contribute to one’s state of mind,” he added.
CAUSES OF THE MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS
Infotrak research reveals that 81 per cent of the population in Kenya feel anxious and stressed about what is happening in the country. The research shows that 61 per cent of Kenyans feel lonely, 52 per cent feel helpless and 33 per cent feel angry.
RECOMMENDATIONS ON HOW TO SOLVE THIS CRISIS
To effectively tackle male depression, men need to be encouraged to talk freely about their feelings. However, Psychiatric Disability Organization (PDO) Kenya founder Iregi Mwenja says society is not used to men voicing out their issues, noting that such efforts are often mocked, met with outright hostility and labelled chauvinism.
“There is a normalized subjugation of male problems and attacks on masculinity which has a significant contribution to rising cases of mental issues, including increased violence among men,” he said.
While trying to tackle issues surrounding mental health, Mr Mwenja emphasizes on breaking the social perspective of ‘toxic masculinity’ which he says has led to the misunderstanding of issues men face. To rectify this, he says that society needs to start adopting strategies that look at men and masculinity as allies in men’s mental health, noting that a change of perception will help win this battle and not changing an inherent trait of a man.
Further, a report has shown that Kenyans are anxious, lonely, confused, stressed, helpless and angry as COVID-19 positive cases continue to increase every day.
Written by: Jonathan Muthumbi