Men We Need To Talk
An open letter to our brothers, fathers, and sons.
(As I gear up to be a panelist on the “Expresso Morning Show” on Monday 20 June on the subject of mental health in fathers, I thought I’d repost this article, which I recently wrote for www.manbox.co.za.)
Whilst our world is facing immense challenges on every side, there is one battle much closer to home. Like it or not, it’s a war we are all enlisted into – and it’s one we must take seriously.
It’s the scourge of suicide amongst us men. Our brothers, sons, and fathers are dying at an alarming rate—in fact, South Africa and Lesotho now register as some of the places with the highest rates of suicide in the world, particularly amongst men aged between 18-40.
When someone takes their life, it is not only their life that is cut short, their families, friends, and communities are forever altered too.
Tragically, the pain that one person tried to escape from doesn’t die with them—it lives on and multiplies in the loved ones they leave behind.
So what can be done?
Besides sending out hashtags and shaking our heads, are there any practical steps we can take to not only stay in the game ourselves but help others to as well?
A respected study revealed that four crippling thoughts tend to converge in the suicidal mind:
I am alone.
I am a burden.
I will never be happy.
Things will never get better.
Let’s look at how each of these lies tend to take hold in our minds, then fight back with some higher truths…
I AM ALONE
Many are feeling more isolated than ever. Yes, we may be connected online, but we don’t feel connected in real life.
Ironically, social media has made us more anti-social: more aware of our differences than what unites us.
This is only half the truth, however. And in the end, half-truths are not very different from white lies. The reality is that you are not alone.
Andrew Solomon said it best:
“ When you are depressed, you need the love of other people, and yet depression fosters actions that destroy love. Depressed people often stick pins into their own life rafts. But the conscious mind can intervene. You are not as helpless or alone as you think or may feel.”
There are many men just like you, and far more unites us all than divides us.
You have not been especially afflicted, and you’ve got what it takes to get back up again. Yes, even you. Reaching out for help and admitting our vulnerabilities might not come naturally to most men, but it is critical if we’re to not just survive but thrive in life.
In fact, it’s a sign of real courage and inner security.
There’s no shame in recognising that we need others.
Let’s start normalising this and stop shutting down the conversation when it gets too deep.
Let’s ask one another how we’re really doing and seek professional help when we need it, way before it’s too late.
Let’s see the things us men tend to run to for what they really are: silent cries for help. Drug and alcohol binges, big talk, power over others, promiscuity, aggressive displays of masculinity—these are just unhealthy outlets for our loneliness, disconnect, and pain.
They never truly fill the void.
Let’s reach out – and see what happens.
I AM A BURDEN
Rising rates of unemployment and the constant challenges that come our way have led to many men feeling disempowered and useless.
Add to this the equally concerning stats on domestic abuse and violence against women and children, and men can begin to feel like they’re not much more than a drain on their family and society in general.
Here’s the honest truth though: the world and your loved ones would not be better off without you.
They would be far worse off. You are not a problem to fix or a burden to bear. In fact, you are a vital part of the solution. Into a world wracked with pain and immense challenges, you have arrived, just in time.
Into a society lacking in healthy male role models (men who don’t give up when the going gets tough, who don’t wield their power for personal gain but use it to lift others up) you have arrived.
And you can make a difference.
Your life is not a mistake.
There is meaning, even in the madness.
Just hold on.
I WILL NEVER BE HAPPY
Suicide doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it is a symptom of suffocating depression. Known as ‘the black dog’, depression isn’t just a heavy emotion you can shake off, it’s as real and debilitating as a broken leg.
It requires medical attention, support, and real action.
As real as it may seem, don’t believe the lie that you will never be happy again. Start by not mistaking social media for real-life: no amount of fame, money, or power will ever make you happy. You have to find it in yourself.
As the legend Anthony Hopkins once said,
“I meet young people, and they want to act and they want to be famous, and I tell them, when you get to the top of the tree, there’s nothing up there. Most of this is nonsense, most of this is a lie.”
Do you know what isn’t a lie though? Gratitude.
No matter how unhappy you may feel, fight to find something you’re grateful for, and stew on that.
THINGS WILL NEVER GET BETTER
Global pandemics and wars. Lockdowns and load shedding. Broken relationships and dashed dreams. Hope deferred and opportunities diminished.
Sometimes the challenges of life can feel like too much to carry. But the good thing about bad times is that they always, always make way for better ones.
Just hold on, and stay a little longer. As author and attempted suicide survivor, Matt Haig says:
“You have survived everything you’ve been through, and you will survive this too. Stay for the person you will become. You are more than a bad day, or year, or even decade. You are a future of so many possibilities. See yourself as another self at a point in future time, looking back in gratitude that this lost and former you held on. You are not just THIS you. Stay.”
In summary, gentlemen:
You are not alone.
You are not a burden.
You will be happy again.
And things will get better.
When you need to (and we all need to from time to time) reach out to others and find the support you need, the agency you actually have, and the hope that is just around the corner.
Need to talk to someone right now?
If you are in South Africa, call the SADAG Helpline any time, day or night: 0800 567 567.
P.S. As we approach “Father’s Mental Health Day” (20 June—the day following Father’s Day) I will soon post a second article on mental health in fathers—in that one I will share as honestly as I can how I recently got myself into a bad space, then—with the help of other—managed to recover a sense of bouyancy and hopefulness.
Also published on Medium.