OPINION: Let’s debunk myths about male depression

When A Man Cries, written by Siphiwo Mahala, is an uncompromising and engrossing novel about the challenges of manhood in contemporary South African society.

I grew up in an area where a man is described as a tough guy who does not back off in a fight or an argument or somebody who does not cry when he is hurt.

I grew up in a place where tigers do not cry. Whenever something bad happens to a man, the elders or even those in your own age group would always remind you that “indoda ayikhali nokuba sele ingxange engxangxasini”.

This still reverberate in my ears until today. It echoes every time I am faced with a problem.

That wrong mentality stayed with me for years until I broke down on Saturday March 16 at the funeral of my beloved mother. As the eldest son, I was supposed to speak on behalf of her children. But I totally collapsed. I couldn’t say a word. The man in me died. And at the back of my mind I felt like I had failed many.

But it later occurred to me that there was nothing wrong with me crying. I realised I had to. I remembered the seriousness of depression and other related conditions.

I remembered that I was deeply hurt and that life was too beautiful to die with depression, so I had to cry. It sounds like a petty excuse but I am now more clear of stress.

Most men, especially black African men die silently. Some commit suicide because they are too embarrassed to talk about their problems or cry out loud.

They are too embarrassed to be labelled sissies.

It was the last day of Notaimisi which deserved any form of crying.

This gave rise to a question about the workplace and whether staff are taught about mental health issues, whether staff are encouraged to go for counselling, or if they are expected to just keep producing.

The tragic realities of depression and mental health should be the one thing those who lead at work preach to their staff. It is understandable that workers should produce but equally so, they should be taken care of.

Imagine what journalists go through on a daily basis. Imagine those who work underground – police, nurses and doctors to mention but a few. These are people who constantly face horrible things – and have their own family issues to deal with.

When do doctors, journalists, police, teachers go for counselling? I know so many people who are in a dark place, people who are scared to speak out about their troubles.

Every year we hear about about the matriculants who commit suicide because they have failed or not done as well as they had hoped. Why would these young people hang themselves? It means we are not doing enough to make them strong for life’s challenges. But most importantly, we are failing to teach them that in life people fail. In life there are chances that one would turn out to be what did not want to be.

It took my mother’s death to make me realise how bad depression is. Just recently, my close relative committed suicide. That haunts me too. It took me back to the death of Notaimisi. I know amaXhosa do not accept that. AmaXhosa castigate anyone who commits suicide.

But I would advise men, Xhosa men in particular, to cry when it hurts, to shout when it hurts and to speak out when they are not happy. To bottle up the pain will hurt more. It will not just hurt an individual but the entire family, friends and part of the country.

We ought to always find time to reflect on ourselves. But our workplaces should also play a vital role. They always should encourage workers to go for counselling.

It should not be normal to finish a year without going to counselling. Workers are too depressed and that does not need a research.