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It's a lonely, silent world for men in the grip of mental health diseases

 Side view portrait of a depressed man sitting on a bench in a park. [Getty Images]

Do you expect me to talk about my problems with you? I keep my problems to myself, not even my wife has a hint of what is ailing me,” says Edwin when asked about how often he seeks support for mental health challenges.

William, a journalist based in Nairobi, notes that when he is stressed, he would rather go drinking.

“For men, we would rather drink and keep quiet about things,” says William.

William says he feels the society has not provided space for a man to express himself. According to him, a man he is likely to be judged for expressing what many would see as weakness.

“Nobody will take him seriously, compared to women,” says William, admitting that although he resorts to alcohol, the drink does not take away the stress.

“By the time a man opens up to you about a mental problem, just know he got healed long time ago. Men rarely share such things,” he says.

Collins, a Nairobi-based doctor observes: “A man will tell you of how he was battling things but his wife, or those closer to him, were not able to understand him.”

An encounter with the three men has served to paint a picture of a lonely world for men as they grapple with mental health challenges.

This came as the world marks International Men’s Health Day today, under the theme; “Promoting Physical and Mental Well-being among men”.

And as the day is marked, Fidel Tobias Otieno, a clinical psychologist, says men’s mental health is a huge concern.

“Regrettably, the issue is often swept under the carpet because of the stigma men encounter when the share their problems,” says the psychologist.

He adds: “Men are perceived to be strong and fighters. Those who become emotional or complain about their ill health, are labeled weak. Men hate this.” 

“Most men feel ashamed to share their problems,” says Otieno. 


He adds: “And stigma comes from everyone. This has made it hard for men to take their mental health with the seriousness it deserves over fear of being seen as weak.” 

Otieno says there is need to create awareness and make men understand mental health and the importance of seeking support. “November is mental awareness month for men, but nobody is talking about it.”

Dr Catherine Syengo Mutisya, a consultant psychiatrist, says men suffer from stress, just like women do, “but because the society expects them to be strong, men take longer to share their challenges or seek help”.

“Men are programmed to be the ones bringing solutions, not sharing their problems or showing weakness.”

The commonest mental illnesses men suffer, according to the specialist, are substance use disorder, anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia and personality disorders.

Mutisya says because of unsolved mental illnesses, a number of men die by suicide. “Many men attempt suicide, and many have died. They make sure whatever they use will kill them. Women also attempt, but most of the time, they are rescued.”

Reports from the Health Ministry and the police show more men than women die by suicide. Between 2015 and 2018, 1,442 Kenyans attempted suicide, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. The data shows men are four times likely to attempt suicide than women.

Other dangers of unsolved mental health are substance and alcohol use, loss of concentration, underperformance at work, and relationship wrangles.

Social cycle in men who suffer mental health illnesses is also compromised, Mutisya says.

Otieno adds: “A number of men easily become aggressive, violent, irritable and isolate themselves because of underlying mental problems.”

Though men do not openly ask for help, according to Mutisya, they search online for possible solutions to their problems.

Younger generation

And compared to the younger generation, older men are more reserved and would prefer to “man up” than share their mental health challenges.

“Men get to ChatGPT and online sites to seek help and book appointments. They do not like asking for opinions or referrals,” notes Mutisya.

Men’s health-seeking behaviour depends on the people they live with and the support they receive.

“We need to champion affordability, accessibility, and a support system that encourages men to seek mental health services,” says Mutisya, who adds: “You do not have to tell people you are struggling, they will just see.”

“If you do not open up, people might not know you are hurting. We all need therapy. People need to open up, connect, and communicate so they can get help” she says.

Mr Otieno adds men should also engage in physical activities such as exercises for the stability of their physical and mental health.

“If someone is stressed or depressed, and they exercise, such pressure is reduced,” he says, adding; “People who are physically fit have more capacity to handle mental problems. Exercising also improves one’s self-esteem.”

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