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By Enkosi Selane

Digital Journalist

Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month: Two decomposed bodies found in KZN

These tragic incidents highlight the importance of mental health awareness and support, particularly for men.

Two decomposing bodies have been discovered in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) in the past week, sparking concerns for men’s mental health. Both men died by suicide.

The two incidents coincide with Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month in June. During this month, International Men’s Health Week takes place from 10-16 June.

KZN death by suicide in the past week

On Monday, a property owner in Verulam contacted Reaction Unit South Africa (Rusa) to request assistance in gaining entry into their outbuilding, as they had not seen or heard from their tenant for a week.

Upon forcing open the door, officers discovered the extensively decomposed body of a male hanging from a rafter in the bathroom.

Just five days prior, in Mhlasini, also in KZN, residents reported a pungent smell emanating from their neighbour’s informal home.

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Reaction officers discovered the decomposing body of a man hanging by a rope tied to a wooden rafter. Neighbors reported last seeing the deceased on Sunday.

These tragic incidents highlight the importance of mental health awareness and support, particularly for men.

‘Men more likely to die from suicide’

Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month and International Men’s Health Week aim to reduce stigma and encourage men to speak openly about their struggles.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) reports that 1 in 5 men will experience a mental health disorder, with suicide being a leading cause of death among men.

Furthermore, according to Sadag in 2019, South Africa recorded the fourth-highest suicide rate in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region, with the other three leading countries being eSwatini, Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

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It is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health struggles and offer support to those in need.

Speaking to The Citizen, Psychologist Lerato Mokgethi said women are more likely to attempt suicide and experience mental health problems than men. However, “men are more than three times likely to die from suicide because they tend to use more lethal means, like firearms or hanging themselves.”

Mokgethi said women are more likely to survive suicide attempts because they use less lethal means such as cutting themselves or taking medication, giving them a higher chance of recovering quickly.

Societal expectation and traditional gender roles

The psychologist said it was important to find the root cause of men’s mental health. She said men’s issues usually stem from societal expectations and traditional gender roles which make men more vulnerable to mental health difficulties.

This comes from “issues such as masculinity traits where men have to be in control, ‘men cannot cry’- they cannot express their emotions,” said Mokgethi.

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Furthermore, she said men often rely more on themselves and hardly ever reach out to other people for emotional support and assistance.

“Men don’t like to speak about issues such as depression, substance abuse (and) stressful life events such as grief or losing a loved one. They are more reluctant to speak, (although) sometimes when they do speak they tend to downplay their symptoms,” Mokgethi added.

Detecting depression in men

Some pointers that reveal that men struggle to cope with their emotions or have mental health difficulties include aggressiveness, anger, irritability, changes in mood or energy levels, changes in appetite or sleeping, difficulties in focusing or being restlessness.

“Some of the signs include when someone starts consuming alcohol excessively or drugs, and or participating in risky activities.

“There are a lot of warning signs. It’s also important to look at change in normal behavior patterns,” Mokgethi added.

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Moreover, the psychologist said depression is among the most diagnosed condition in men, with 49% of men experiencing depression.

Approximately half of the percentage believe that mental health issues can self-resolve, which is inaccurate.

Three other most common health disorders men struggle with include anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which can be caused by exposure to a traumatic event left untreated, and substance use/abuse disorder.

Receiving help

Toxic masculinity is a common behaviour in men, where they are often encouraged to embrace an unhealthy lifestyle. This can be seen in the form of rigid independence where men are not expected to rely on anyone or anything for them to be well.

Mokgethi said in order to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle, men can begin by accepting help from others, such as loved ones and friends.

“They don’t have to be stoic, they don’t have to refrain from seeking help. It starts with opening up to the people that you trust or seeking help from a professional,” she advised.

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The psychologist emphasised the importance of knowing the issue of confidentiality.

“Professional help such as seeing a psychologist is one of the approaches that can help. Some of the evidence-based approaches in therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy. It is very effective in terms of assisting men deal with the link between their thoughts, emotions and behaviour.

“There are resources and dialogues as well that can help. Participating in these dialogues which are for men by men also helps in engaging constructively in dialogue.”

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Mokgethi acknowledged that people struggling with depression often see suicide as the only way out, however, she condemned even seeing it as an option.

“Suicide is only a cry for help, it’s not the solution, it’s not the only way out,” she said.

Furthermore, Mokgethi said in order to promote men’s mental health awareness and support in communities, society members should allow young boys to be themselves.

“Allow individuality, instead of encouraging this notion of toxic masculinity and what a man is supposed to be like, embrace difference in men. That can be in communities, in schools, and workplaces.”

Mokgethi encouraged an open culture in all social spaces as well as in households.

Where to get help

This tragic incident highlights the importance of mental health awareness and the need for support systems. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional, or call a helpline such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) at 0800 21 22 23.

Sadag’s WhatsApp counselling line can be contacted from 9 am to 4 pm at 076 882 2775. The South African Mental Health Federation can be reached on 011 781 1862 and LifeLine South Africa on 0861 322 322.

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