Gone are the daily routines of waking up, getting dressed, preparing children for school, attending social gatherings, and even meeting up with our loved ones. What was thought as normal is slowly fading away. Downsizing workers at the workplace and full closure of some businesses has rendered several people jobless. The event sector, hospitality and airline industries have been affected with numerous having unstable income. With schools closed, children are home and cannot interact with other kids as was the norm. Everyone has been affected in some way but it appears that men are the worst hit.
On 13th April 2020, the body of an unidentified man was found dangling from a tree opposite Lions Place along Waiyaki Way. On 21st July 2020, a man committed suicide by jumping off Nyali bridge into the Indian Ocean after demanding his pay from the employer. Another gentleman in Rongai, Kenya commited suicide while awaiting his COVID-19 test results on 25th July 2020. These are a few highlighted suicides on Kenyan mainstream media during this COVID-19 pandemic period. Since March 2020 when the Ministry of Health announced the first Coronavirus case in Kenya, depression, and suicide have been on the rise. There appears to be a correlation between the pandemic and mental health status.
African society and Christian religious beliefs place a significant emphasis that men are intended to be the providers. But what happens when they cannot provide? Some men’s egos are deflated, feelings of worthlessness creep in as their wallet runs dry. The good husband and father that we all knew finds comfort in the ‘bottle’ and becomes withdrawn. To add salt to injury, he cannot articulate what is bothering him due to African societal pressures that dictates that men are not to express their emotions and if they do, they are considered inadequate.
Harsh societal judgment combined with a limited avenue to express themselves contributes to depression in both men and women. According to WHO, depression is a common disorder affecting more than 264 million people globally with 1.9 million people being Kenyans. This figure translates to Kenya being the sixth most depressed country in Africa (WHO World Health Report, 2017). Depression when left untreated or poorly managed could lead to suicide. At least 800,000 people commit suicide every year worldwide with Kenya’s suicidal rate being 6.5 cases per 100,000 people (WHO). According to 2018 KNBS economic survey men are more likely to be suicidal to compared to women.
The aforementioned statistics and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the numbers are expected to rise. The surge of positive COVID-19 mixed with feelings of anxiety, stress, anger, helplessness, and depression has created a volatile emotional environment. These feelings have contributed to the increased cases of suicide and depression as highlighted by Kenya’s Ministry of Health (MOH). MOH has plans to improve on the mental health status (COVID-19 report by CS Kagwe Mutahi on 07.07.2020).
While the government proceeds to implement a mental healthcare plan, citizens need to improve the environment. We need to facilitate open dialogue for both Men and boys to emotionally express themselves without fear of condemnation or marginalizing their feelings. By doing this we can ensure our men are home with us and not as statistics on a health report.
To the men that are open about depression and any mental health disorder, we applaud you. May your strength be the light that other men follow.
This too shall pass but our ‘sanity’ will remain.