/ 19 October 2022

South African men’s mental health is a life-and-death issue

Morally bereft leadership raises questions of trust
(John McCann/M&G)

Some headlines stay etched into my mind long after reading them. Lately, two have been swimming around in my subconscious and, although they seem unrelated, they are not mutually exclusive. The first is the story of a foul smell at a panel-beating factory leading to the discovery of six women’s bodies. The second is a report about increasing male suicide rates in South Africa. 

The second is an unfortunate fact. Male suicides are on the up in South Africa. 

“While women may be diagnosed with depression more than men, men don’t speak about their feelings till it is too late,” explains Cassey Chambers, operations director for the South African Suicide, Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag). 

A look at the high-profile suicides of male celebrities like Riky Rick and Patrick Shai tells the story of a nationwide problem. The World Health Organisation reported that, in 2019, “13 774 suicides were reported in South Africa. Of these deaths, 10 861 were men.” 

Depression in men is not different from that of women but the signs are different. Mentalhealth.org.uk lists the most common symptoms of depression in men as “irritability, sudden anger, increased loss of control, risk-taking and aggression”. 

Furthermore, “men may also be more likely to use alcohol and drugs to cope with their depression rather than talking about it”. Add to this the violence men are exposed to in our communities daily and we get a clearer understanding of why the mentality of violence and anger being the only acceptable emotions among men is still the norm. This mentality is not only costing men their lives. 

Another state of disaster

The shocking and sickening story of the discovery of six women’s bodies is a common one of consequence. A lack of systemic and societal change is aching to occur in defence of our women. Women are on the receiving end of the daily displaced anger and powerlessness the men in our country are handed and are massively ill-equipped to manage. 

South Africa spent the majority of 2020 and 2021 under a state of national disaster to protect people from Covid-19. Between October 2020 and October 2022, about 70 000 people died from the virus (this is widely thought to be less due to inaccurate reporting from hospitals). From October to December 2021, 902 women were murdered, according to crime statistics. 

At that same time, 11 315 rape cases were reported. Using this as an average for the year, we can assume that in a year period 3 608 women were murdered and 45 260 were raped (also understood to be widely under-reported). We are living in our own continued national state of disaster from an epidemic of our own. And that is no understatement. 

Men’s mental health is a national emergency 

We’ve covered the violence men perpetrate against women but what of the violence men are inflicting on each other? In total, 6 083 people were murdered in the first quarter of 2022. With 2.9% of convicted criminals serving time in South African prisons being women, it’s safe to say that most of these murders were committed by men. 

Our women, children, and indeed men, are constantly being traumatised by the aggression and violence perpetrated by men. As a result of this constant anguish and grief, we are dealing with high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression as a country. 

Increased, targeted government funding and specific public awareness programmes are imperative. NGOs and support groups are the best options we have right now for accessible treatment. 

With the stakes as high as they are, many men are taking it upon themselves to start male-only support groups and finding honesty, hope and

vulnerability within these structures. See below to find out how to begin one or where to find one near you. 

Mental health help resources 

Public mental health treatment options: 


Mental health counselling free of charge: 


Sadag suicide help line and other helplines: 


Start or join a support group / support group directory: 


The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.