By Ntsikelelo Mzibomvu, visual artist and community activist, Activate Change Drivers

The subject of men’s mental health is one of the most difficult challenges facing society and will continue to face for quite some time. It is truly a difficult subject to open up about, as the very act of opening up about what we may feel as our “failures”, challenges the core ideas of what being a man is.

The difficulty of opening up would lead some men to rather take their lives than seek help. And it is partly for this reason that South African men suffer some of the highest suicide rates globally. Mental health amongst men is a pressing issue that requires an integrated societal response.

The consequences of this near pandemic are dire as it implies that one of the primary pillars of the family unit is rendered ineffective and as a result affects the integrity of the family structure. Ideally, both pillars are required to hold the integrity of the family unit, in good physical and mental health.

In a traditional nuclear family, the male will often play the role of the provider, protector, and guide. And when the role of the man breaks down or is removed, these functions become adversely affected. This doesn’t mean these roles can’t be performed by women/mothers, but to say like in any form of organisation, it is easier if the work remains divided between more people than to overload it on one person.

As we know from experience or observation, overloading one person with roles often leads to the compromise of other functions. It’s far more ideal to have both parents, healthy in mind and body as much as possible. As men, we need to interrogate how we are socialised as boys and start making the necessary adjustment that will foster an environment of good mental health.

Even though the suicide statistics are alarming, they are not that much of a surprise. Our history as a 30-year-old democracy is interwoven with some of the systemic injustices of the former apartheid and colonial governing. Not much has been done to fix our divisional issues as South Africans, not even a plan for proper healing. Observation over our 30 years of freedom shows that we are prone to violent behaviour because our history is rooted in violence. That’s how the state used to do it, use violence. Even though we now have a constitution that speaks to freedom, rights, and responsibilities, we are constantly fighting in one space or another for the fulfilment of basic human rights.

The divisions amongst South African men and society by extension, have prevented our economy from flourishing. The popular phrase is “every man for himself”. The spirit created is that of a survivor in a jungle, which oftentimes is not necessary for a society attempting to rebuild. A society that is failing to rebuild, because it is divided in thought.

On an individual level, most of us men tend to lack balance and restraint. The “every man for himself” mentality easily lends itself to toxic behaviour, such as greed and a general inconsideration of others and their rights. Very few have had their fathers close enough to teach them the value of honesty with themselves and others. I’ve met many brothers that would rather tell a big lie than deal directly with the not-so-big truth.

This then goes on to say we lie to ourselves more than we take the opportunity to shape and improve our character. To a degree, we are afraid to take an honest look at who we have become, but rather shift the blame to “a time in our lives”. As most of us acquire our worst habits while going through our worst of times.

In this, I’m simply trying to say mental health cannot be preserved in a state of societal and personal disunity. We can even go further to say that disunity also becomes a symptom of someone struggling with mental health issues, and it is sometimes expressed by rapid and extreme changes in moods and behaviour. Mental health speaks to a balanced perspective on life and a healthy integration and relations to society.

In this, I believe there are two ways in which we can begin fast-tracking our healing as brothers. The first is for us men to begin engaging in some form of personal development program. We need to start seeing the value of following up on that impulse that pushes us to want to show up as better people. It can help us see more of what we haven’t been doing right and how to change it.

The second is to consider creating a nationally adopted document on the values of how men should relate to each other in all important social, political, and economic practices. As men (society), we must decide and have an agreement, across tribes, on what is acceptable and tolerable behaviour about men, by men. With expectations voiced, this may create a space to guide future generations of men on how to behave, maintain peace, and cooperation.


About the author:

Ntsikelelo Mzibomvu is an activator at ACTIVATE! Change Drivers, a visual artist, a cool dad and the host of podcasts, ‘Conversations over Coffee and Art’, and the ‘CoCaPodcast’ – a dialogue platform fuelled by the love and appreciation for art. He is also author of a bold visual artist coffee table book, “The Path to Great Joy”; a personal development book “Reimagining Myself – A journey of personal transformational and entrepreneurial thinking”; and a contributor to the fatherhood memoirs book, “A Father, A Stranger” edited by Bongani Luvalo of Cool Dad’s Foundation. Ntsikelelo recently participated in the demanding 645km walk from Kwa-Thema to Durban, hosted by Hope for Africa Foundation and Cool Dad’s Foundation, in order to raise funds for children without school shoes; and the promoting of present fatherhood amongst men.

About ACTIVATE! Change Drivers:

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers is a network of young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa. Connecting youth who have the skills, sense of self and spark to address tough challenges and initiate innovative and creative solutions that can reshape our society.

On social media:

Twitter: @ActivateZA    Facebook: ACTIVATE! Change Drivers     Instagram: Activate_za


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