‘Movember’; highlighting Mental Wellness for Men
‘Movember’ is an initiative held during the month of November when men are encouraged to grow moustaches in a symbolic gesture to raise awareness of men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental wellness. That men’s health is in the spotlight is particularly relevant in the light of increasing male suicides – the suicide of successful, young rap artist Riky Rick earlier this year and more recently, the male student at the Stellenbosch University residence.
Why do many men suffer from depression? Why is there a meteoric rise in mental illness in men that triggers gender-based violence, escapism through drug abuse, or affiliation with gangsterism? These questions are complex, but some of the answers lie in the socio-historical and economic matrixes that make up current South African society.
South Africa’s generational legacies of brutality stem from colonialism, apartheid, and the migrant labour system, and are compounded by current socio-economic challenges of poverty, inequality, unemployment and the ‘missing father syndrome’. These have significantly impacted men’s self-esteem. For too long men are carrying an emotional burden and suffering in silence from expectations placed on them in a highly patriarchal society. And despite the many economic challenges men face, they are still expected to shoulder the responsibilities of being their families ‘breadwinners’, the heads of households, and taking care of siblings or elderly parents.
Living in a society which is becoming increasingly complex, demanding and uncertain will no doubt
exacerbate the stress many men feel with increasing impact on mental health. In the best emotional interest of our men, the status quo cannot be allowed to continue. Society has to face up to the ‘wounds’ that many men are inflicted with and need to provide more empathy where necessary.
So how do we develop capability in our men? This requires a systemic approach based potentially on 3
● Ontological: “What is a Man? How does society define masculinity? How do these definitions impact
behaviour? These are ontological issues men grapple with in a complex world that is becoming more
gender-fluid. Notions of ‘manhood’ or ‘maleness’ are subject to multiple interpretations. Making sense
of these depends principally on the socialising factors one is exposed to – culture; education; religious
beliefs. Thus, one’s gender concept will generally be accepted as that ‘reality’ that we experience
through our socialising.
● Epistemological: Much of how we understand the world is mediated through our education system.
Hence education is about more than facts and figures. It’s also about how we live with each other and
how we live in the world. Therefore, integrating notions of self and gender awareness into educational
curricula is imperative. Subjects such as Life Orientation can be used very productively to frame
discussions around sexuality and gender relations. Counselling can also be provided at school.
● Sociological: Social norms are perpetuated through dominant cultural practices which are practised at
home and often reinforced through education or faith-based activities. Therefore, how society
manages its gender challenges, anticipates it, makes sense of it, or harnesses it for positive outcomes,
depends on how it interrogates its dominant norms.
Rapid changes in society in all spheres – social; political; economic, have reframed notions of identity; of what it means to be a ‘man’ and these have had a profound impact on social and personal lives. These resulted in the disruption of lives, heightened stress and increased feelings of alienation and powerlessness. Confronting these in a sensitive, non-judgemental, empathic and supportive way, will significantly address the vulnerabilities that many faces.
South Africa’s future sustainability depends on men who have a clear sense of identity, who are well
integrated into society and who are capable and confident to play constructive roles as fathers, partners and professionals. Failing to address this, like the generations before us, will have a detrimental effect not only on future generations but on the sustainability of society as a whole!
Rudi Kimmie (PhD) is the CEO of TSIBA Business School. He writes in his personal capacity.