The tough exterior, the tendency not to share feelings is increasingly leading to pent-up frustrations, hidden depression and violent suicide. Health officials, traditional leaders and Good Samaritans are asking men to let their guards down. Mmegi Correspondent, TUMELO MOUWANE reports
Earlier in the week, the front page of a local publication carried the graphic pictures and story of a man who apparently hung himself in Old Naledi, leaving behind mystified friends and neighbours.
The victim in that case was just one of the many men in Botswana who choose to take their own lives each year, catching the public’s attention through the headlines for a while, before slipping into oblivion.
One day it was a councillor, the other time a schoolboy, a few years ago a top ranking public official and the other day a herd boy.
Hundreds of lives are at risk and being lost to depression and suicide, despite the best efforts of families, counsellors and other social structures. The time-honoured cultural role of men as heads of households, providers and defenders has nurtured generations of men who talking about their feelings is a sign of weakness and failure.
For the suicidal, their frustrations can be gauged in the violent methods they choose to end their lives.
Kagiso Matshaba, a psychiatric nurse at Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital is intimately aware of the sad situation.
On the commemoration of Men’s Day held in Lobatse recently, he revealed that not only are men’s methods of suicide more violent, but their attempts are usually more ‘successful’ than women’s.
“Men are naturally not outspoken as compared to women in most circumstances and in times of provocation,” he said.
“In our society, men are taught at a young age that ‘tigers don’t cry’. This in itself makes them bottle up problems later in life.
“Women are more likely to talk to a friend, whilst men would rather die inside. “Society influences a man to bottle up, especially in relationships issues. For example, a man is highly to resort to a physical response because they don’t have that negotiating power as women.”
For Motswedi ward chief, Kgotlaetsile Motsamai, the time for the bravado is over.
He believes men need to stand together and for each other and talk.
“We must do away with the olde tradition that men don’t cry.
“No, actually men cry. Men should learn to nurse their feelings and understand that depression is a disease and just like other ills, there is a cure.
“The cure is approaching another man, expressing to them how one feels and that will help relieve them from suicidal thoughts.”
Providing support to other men and encouraging them to talk, saved a life in the border town once. Otukile Rakhudu remembers inadvertently helping a friend, who – as it turned out – had been contemplating suicide.
“This friend of mine was amongst the key players in our football team. One Sunday during our usual match, he was just not himself.
“He was very quiet and he seemed too morose, which was unusual of him.
“Jokingly, I said to him ‘what did your girl do this time around?’ It was all in jest and other players mocked him, but a smile lit up his face.
“He later took me aside and told me that he was going through a rough time.
I gave him advice and recently he came to tell me that he was thankful and that I had saved him from committing suicide.”
The incident left Rakhudu wiser on the silent cry for help. “A suicide death is more painful than you could ever think. The dignity of the bereaved family stays hanging in the air and the feelings of guilt haunt family members.
“Children become orphans and the pain is totally unbearable. Scars don’t heal. Men need to open up, talk and share challenges.”
At the commemoration, Boswelatlou ward councillor, Themba Stimela urged men to realise their worth and encourage each other in the tough times. “After one commits suicide, family finances are drained. Government has to take care of the orphans and everything requires money after you are laid to rest,” he said.
The commemoration raised the need for a national toll-free suicide hotline where depressed individuals could speak to counsellors or psychiatrists in anonymity. Other survivors also stressed the healing power of writing down one’s problems and as a tool for recovery.