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(Why is it that men are more comfortable talking about football and farts than their feelings? EOA looks at the very real issue of male depression. here are few events more entertaining than a group of guys getting together and throwing back a few cold ones. The usually dominated by anything from conversation is sports to sports cars, temperamental weather to temperamental women, and the age-old conundrum of whether umgqusho (samp and beans) or boiled eggs causes the worse farts. It's a laugh-a-minute gathering of members of an elite club where bromance reigns supreme and there's never a dull moment. Every man here is happy and can talk about whatever is on his mind - as long as it's not depressing or sad. It's this unspoken masculine rule that experts believe is the cause of soaring rates of depression among men. FEELINGS ARE FOR GIRLS In his book, IDon't Want To Talk About It: Overcoming The Secret Legacy Of Male Depression, psychologist Terrance Real says society seldom views men as depressed because of the 'boy culture' they have been socialised into. "During childhood and beyond, boys are often shamed for He explains: feelings of vulnerability or desires for intimacy, ways of being that are more readily encouraged for girls and women. "This allows them [men] to interact with the world and to relate to other WORDS: RUSELL BROUT. IMAGE: ©iSTOCK.COM. people in a manner that preserves their masculine images as powerful, heroic, successful and invulnerable." However, Real warns that this forces men to also develop coping styles that lean towards narcissism and grandiosity, which, if left unchecked, can be harmful. BIG BOYS DON'T CRY Bavashni*, a 43 rye ar-old mother of one, from Durban, can relate to Real's observations and has experienced firsthand the effects of male depression. "Mzamo* and I met at Westville University in the late eighties. Both majoring in political science, we shared a passion for politics that soon grew into a deep love for each other," she recalls. It was a very exciting time of solidarity and transition in South Africa, and mixed-race couples, such as Bavashni and Mzamo, no longer had to live in fear of ridicule or harm when they walked hand-in-hand in public. "His family welcomed me with open arms and much love. Mine, on the other hand, were against us being together, going so far as calling him derogatory names. But this didn't stop us from getting married," she says. The pair excelled academically and career-wise. They bought a luxurious home in the affluent Umhlanga Rocks area and soon became pregnant with their baby daughter. "We had everything a young couple could want, but the thing Mzamo longed for most was the blessing and acknowledgement of my parents. This seemed to fuel his ambition, and we hardly saw each other because of work and studies. "When I did see him, he was drunk or high from a weekend binge. He became verbally abusive and withdrawn," says Bavashni, adding how she'd given him an ultimatum of couple's therapy or divorce. Three days before their first session with the therapist, Bavashni found Mzamo hanging from the avocado tree in their backyard. DEPRESSION HAS NO GENDER Rates of depression among South African men are at an all time high and reports of men not only killing themselves but taking their families with them, are rife in the news, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). "Instead of acknowledging their feelings, asking for help or seeking treatment, men with depression are more likely to turn to alcohol and drugs, or throw themselves compulsively into their work or hobbies in an attempt to hide their depression from family and friends," says SADAG. Research shows that men tend to talk differently or, in most cases not at all, about their symptoms of depression. Men may not recognise their irritability, sleep problems, withdrawal or loss of interest in work and hobbies as signs of depression. "Many people still see depression as a weakness and, as a result, many men are reluctant to come forward for help," comments SADAG. Sharing these sentiments, mental health and wellbeing support groups also warn that depression, when left untreated, can lead to heart disease and other serious medical conditions. "Of course, it's normal for anyone to feel down from time to time. However, if intense feelings of despair and hopelessness take hold, and interfere with work, family and your ability to enjoy life, you may be suffering from depression," warns online anti-depression support group HelpGuide.org. KNOW THE SIGNS Bavashni says she did not suspect that Mzamo was depressed because he was the epitome of glowing health and masculinity. "Even when I discovered he was using drugs, I just ascribed it to work pressure and the influence of his new male colleagues. Now I realise that he was too proud to confide in me about his feelings because it's not what men do. "Many people still have no idea how what they say or do can affect other people. My family always wanted Mzamo out of my life and they got their wish in the end," says Bavashni. She encourages everyone to be wary of the signs and symptoms of depression in themselves and their loved ones, and to speak up about it. build a solid support network: inspiring to share experiences. o Volunteer your time o Meet new people o Walk a dog O Invite someone out make the effort to reconnect. O Confide in someone o Be a good listener TIPS FOR TACKLING DEPRESSION For many men, especially when they're suffering from depression, reaching out to others can be overwhelming. Close relationships don't happen overnight, but HeIpGuide.org offers tips to help you connect and 0 Join a support group for depression Being with others who are facing the same problems can help reduce your sense of isolation and remove the stigma you may feel. It can also be This is a great way to help others while also expanding your social network. Do this by taking a class, joining a club, or enrolling in a special interest group that meets on a regular basis. It's good exercise for you and a great way to meet people. Ifyou can't adopt your own, ask a friend or neighbour to borrow their dog. This could be to a soccer match, movie or concert. There are plenty of other people who feel just as awkward about reaching out and making new friends as you do. Be the one to break the ice. O Call or email an old buddy Even if you've retreated from relationships that were once important to you, This could be a counsellor, neighbour, life coach or clergy member. To develop a solid friendship with someone, be prepared to listen and support them just as you want them to listen and support you.