South Africa has the eighth highest suicide rate in the world, with 450 men taking their lives a month and four out of five deaths being the result of suicide.
This is according to the Men’s Foundation of South Africa, an NGO that manages the Movember Foundation in the country under licence from the International Movember Foundation.
The Movember Foundation is the leading global men’s health charity, funding more than 1 200 projects in 21 countries around the world. It is focused on men’s health initiatives, suicide prevention, and testicular and prostate cancer awareness.
The Men’s Foundation develops and implements global programmes in addition to its own initiatives, and works with beneficiary partners the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of South Africa (PCFSA) to fund men’s survivorship and research programmes that meet the global objectives of the Movember Foundation.
Over the weekend of 9 September, the organisation laid out more than 200 pairs of shoes on Sea Point promenade in Cape Town in support of World Suicide Prevention month. Each pair of shoes bore the imprint of a South African man who once walked in it, and was a silent testimony to the men who have taken their lives in our country.
“It’s a crisis when we’re losing the futures of 18 men daily in this country and we don’t talk about it or the public is not aware of it,” says Garron Gsell, chief executive and founder of the Men’s Foundation.
He says as Movember, they’re leading this charge “to address the health issues affecting South African men and raise funds for research and support programmes that enable men to live happier, healthier and longer lives”.
According to Gsell, many men are now more comfortable discussing certain health issues, but that the subject of mental health is still taboo.
“We need to destigmatise depression by getting men – our husbands, brothers and partners – to understand that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’. That friendship is there for support if you simply reach out and start these conversations.”
There is a general perception that vulnerability is a sign of weakness, but it’s actually a sign of great strength, he adds. “When men struggle to cope, we see it as something shameful and a sign of weakness, not knowing that other men are facing the same challenges and feeling that we are incapable,” he says.
Gsell says that men tend to want to fix everything, even when they don’t have the tools. “This often leads to us helping others to hide our personal battles. The result is that we feel isolated and suffer in silence, hiding behind a fear of judgement until suicide seems like the only solution.”
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He says the reality is that government funding primarily focuses on women, children and the elderly, and that there are very good reasons for this. “What that means is that if we want to help men, we have to rely on the private and public sectors to donate and invest in programmes that will make a difference,” he says.
In South Africa, men have a life expectancy that is seven years shorter than that of women. The Men’s Foundation aims to reduce the number of men dying prematurely by 25% by 2030 through its prostate cancer and mental health campaigns.
“Every suicide leaves behind friends and family who can’t understand why it happened,” Gsell says. “There are so many unanswered questions facing those left behind with the pain of not having noticed the change in behaviour until it was too late. We are making a stand for men to understand that when they are struggling there is support available.”
Where to turn to for help:
• Lifeline – 0861 322 322
• Suicide Crisis line – 0800 567 567
• SADAG Mental Health line – (011) 234 4837