Let’s redefine strength as the ability to acknowledge our vulnerabilities and reach out for support. [iStockphoto]

The recent tragic loss of a friend to suicide has left a profound void in our lives and sparked a deep reflection on the importance of male friendships.

As men, we are often socialised to suppress our emotions, and project an image of strength and stoicism. We are told “real men” don’t cry, don’t show weakness, and don’t rely on others for support.

This rigid narrative has created a culture of silence around men’s mental health, leaving many feeling isolated, alone, and trapped in a cycle of self-destructive thoughts and behaviours.

Statistics show men are less likely to seek help for mental health issues compared to women. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among men aged 10-34.

The World Health Organisation reports that the rate of suicide among men is higher than among women globally, with more than twice as many males dying due to suicide as females (12.6 per 100,000 for males against 5.4 for females).

Data trends in Kenya show suicide rates among men have consistently been three to four times that of women in the last two decades. In 2019, for instance, 9.1 per cent of men in every 100,000 died from suicide compared to 3.2 per cent of women, according to World Bank statistics. These numbers are not just statistics; they represent lives lost, families shattered and communities left grieving.

Men are often reluctant to reach out for help, to admit their struggles, or seek support from others. This silence can be deadly.

It is time for men to create a culture where they feel comfortable talking about their emotions, their fears, and their insecurities.

We need a space where men can be vulnerable, without fear of judgment or ridicule. We can do this by building strong friendships, where we support each other through thick and thin. Having a confidant, a friend you can share your inner struggles with, can be a lifeline in dark times. It’s not about having many friends, but a few genuine connections where conversations go beyond surface-level small talk.

Imagine a world where every man has someone to turn to in times of need, where conversations about mental health are as ordinary as discussing football, weather or politics. We can create this world by actively engaging in open dialogue and cultivating meaningful friendships.

Building strong friendships takes time and effort, but it is one of the most important things for our mental health and well-being. Strong friendships offer a sense of belonging, a feeling of camaraderie, and a reminder that we are not alone.

For men, being the pillar of strength for others often comes naturally, but being vulnerable is seen as a sign of weakness. However, vulnerability is a strength—an act of courage that allows us to confront our battles and seek help.

Let’s redefine strength as the ability to acknowledge our vulnerabilities and reach out for support.

As men, it’s crucial to be the listening ear our friends might desperately need. When a friend reaches out, it’s a testament to their trust in us. It’s a plea for understanding, not judgment. We must create spaces where conversations about mental health are not just accepted but encouraged.

To every man reading this, be the friend who listens without judgment. Be the friend who offers a shoulder to lean on, a safe space for someone’s vulnerabilities, a friend who can be counted on. And to those fighting battles within themselves, know that seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It’s an act of strength and a step towards healing.

Break the silence and build a community where men support each other, where vulnerability is celebrated, and seeking help is a courageous step, not a shameful one. Let’s be the change our society needs. Because together, we can shatter the stigma, one conversation at a time.

-The writer is a communication consultant. X - @profemsi

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