21/07/2017 14:37 SAST | Updated 21/07/2017 15:17 SAST

Depression Is At An All Time High Amongst South African Men

Guys need to learn it's not wimpy to seek help.

(Photo by Gallo Images/You/ER Lombard)
ER Lombard/Gallo images
(Photo by Gallo Images/You/ER Lombard)

The rate of depression amongst South African men is at an all-time high. "It's an absolute crisis," clinical psychologist Zamo Mbele tells HuffPost SA. "Depression is often unseen, unspoken and untreated, especially in men," adds Mbele.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group said the number of men calling their helplines has increased compared to ten years ago. The organisation's Operations Director, Cassey Chambers tells HuffPost SA that of the about 400 calls they receive daily, at least 100 of them are from men.

According to the Sunday Times, the number of South African men admitted to private psychiatric clinics for depression in 2013 was nearly a third higher than in 2010.

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Although depression symptoms differ, the most common are mood changes, where someone may be persistently irritable, sad or anxious. This may be accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, guilt and helplessness. He may also seem to lose interest in hobbies he liked to do and seem to have low energy than normal. He may have trouble sleeping and his appetite may change. He may also entertain thoughts of death or suicide.

"In adolescent men, untreated depression can manifest through substance abuse and self-medication. In young adults struggling with depression, it can manifest itself in alcohol abuse, which often masks a lot of depression. And you see the most violent suicides owing to depression in the middle aged to older men category," says Mbele.

For fifty-five-year-old Julian Turner, depression drove him to Kranskloof in KwaZulu-Natal, where he jumped off an 80-metre cliff. He survived, even though he wanted to die.

Turner, who works in the financial sector and has a wife and two children, said he hit rock bottom in 2014. Addressing the mental health summit in Johannesburg in June, Turner said the signs were there for many years but he ignored them. For example, his moods were characterized by extreme highs and lows. He was constantly stressed and anxious and would occasionally take anti-depressants to "feel alive" but this would be short-lived.

Mbele believes in South Africa in particular, we need more mental health education awareness, because mental illnesses are medical conditions. "We also need to normalise access to help for men. To see a psychologist if you're a man is okay. To see a therapist or a psychiatrist if you're a man is okay," he says.

"The disorder itself is seen as unmanly. Depression carries, to many, a double stain--the stigma of mental illness and also the stigma of "feminine" emotionality," writes author Terrence Real, on depression in men.

This needs to change, says Mbele and it can start with socialising men differently. "It is considered unmasculine to express feelings, yet the boys don't cry phenomenon goes all the way to adulthood," he points out, with great consequences when dealing with conditions such as depression. "Statistics show that depression and suicide are inextricably linked, with more men likely to commit suicide than women."

Chambers agrees. She says if left untreated, a mental health illness can affect one's work, family life, to varying degrees and may lead to suicide.

Today, Turner manages the condition using medication. "Without medication I will die," he said. He also believes a strong support system is crucial to one's recovery process, but this starts with a person seeking help.

*The South African Depression and Anxiety Group offers free and confidential counselling. Their toll free number is 0800 212 223. You can also call the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393.