Men challenging notions of masculinity

Men challenging notions of masculinityMen are fighting depression and defining their own masculinity. (Credit: Steven Kersting/ Flickr)

Societal beliefs that men are tough are actually suppressing important discussions about the causes that lead to suicide.

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Men are more likely to die by suicide than women, according to Rees Mann. He is an ambassador at the South African Male Survivor of Sexual Abuse (SAMSOSA). 

“We are not talking about it. We want to try to forget that it exists because we want to assume the role of what society says masculinity should be.”

A married man, a pastor and correctional service official in Botshabelo, Free State  defied the perception and went for counselling when he was on the brink of death by suicide. Pastor Thokoana Letlabika recalls telling his friends that he was stressed but it was a topic was brushed off without much attention. “I was so torn inside until I travelled to Jo’burg to seek a psychologist who did not know me at all. He did not give me solutions; he only asked questions that I answered myself. As a man, I wept bitterly in front of him but it helped me forgive myself and all [those] I was blaming for the mess which [was] my life,” he says. 

Mann himself is a survivor of sexual assault believes he is stronger than any other male who suffers in silence instead of seeing a psychologist. He breaks the silence by speaking with men across the country and acknowledges that he lives with the effects of being raped but he nonetheless copes. “I still suffer from the consequences of being abused and raped. I have semi-facial dystonia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar and adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but I manage each one of these issues,” he says. 

“The sad reality is that when a man dies by suicide everybody around him says ‘I didn’t know he was so depressed’ because mental health issues for us males are considered a weakness,” says Mann. He calls on men to break the cycle of abuse in their lives because “hurt people hurt people”. He adds that toxic masculinity kills not only men but women and children too.” 

Letlabika says he struggled for many years before deciding to consult a psychologist because he feared the stigma that people would say he is a pastor who does not have faith.

Whilst Mann acknowledges there is a percentage of males who were raped and abused who go on to become rapists and abusers. It is the responsibility of all men, he says, to fight the scourge of rape and abuse.

“I realised that we as men need to speak out about our challenges. Whether we were victims as boys or suffered any type of abuse as adults, we don’t have to be ashamed,” says Lemena Thebe after listening to a talk from Mann.

Mann believes that seeking help is a sign of strength. “It is time for us men to take a stand and define our own masculinity,” he adds. – Health-e News