We need to stop treating men like machines

Men’s Mental Health month provides a prime opportunity for us to evaluate the ways in which males mental health is treated in our society. Picture: Pixabay

Men’s Mental Health month provides a prime opportunity for us to evaluate the ways in which males mental health is treated in our society. Picture: Pixabay

Published Jun 16, 2024



Our modern society has made significant strides in shining light on the importance of mental health.

This is particularly pertinent during this month of June, which marks Men’s Mental Health Month.

The key focus here is to bring awareness to the mental health struggles of men and encourage vital discourses on mental health amongst males in our society.

Modern society has frequently placed emphasis on the physical health when it comes to males, but recklessly continues to side-line the importance of mental health as well.

As such, Men’s Mental Health month provides a prime opportunity for us to evaluate the ways in which males mental health is treated in our society.

I want to contend that men’s mental health is largely understated in our society. Granted, there is a plethora of personal and socio-economic challenges that are grappled with every day. Despite this, we need to recognise the various issues that emerge in our society as a direct result of poor mental health amongst men.

Men, especially in the African context, are often treated as self-sufficient, tough, unemotional, and overall invulnerable. Men, however, are humans who face the same challenges and difficulties that the rest of society faces, and it is vital that this fact is acknowledged across our entire modern society.

The biggest impediment to effectively addressing men’s mental health in our society is the immense stigmatisation that men face. This is not only derived from the socialisation of males, but also from toxic masculinity.

When toxic masculinity is discussed, it is often portrayed as an attack on “manhood”, however, it is far from this.

There are plenty of positive traits within masculinity, such as courage, assertiveness, dependability, and maturity, to name a few. There are, however, countless toxic traits that are often misrepresented as masculinity, such as aggression, promiscuity, emotional insensitivity, and homophobia, to name a few.

In my view, the primary issue with toxic forms of masculinity is that they are highly dismissive of the challenges that are faced by men. Often times, the men that do attempt to address personal, social, and mental health issues are stigmatised, ostracised and shamed for them.

Men are not homogenous. Like every human, they were born with a unique personality, and distinct preferences that shape the way they live their lives. Instead of imposing judgment and male stereotypes constructed from storybooks, they should be supported in order to not only better themselves, but also the society that they live in.

Discourse about men’s challenges, led by the males who experience these challenges, is absolutely pertinent. Our society should not only encourage positive mental health attributes, but also ensure accessibility to facilities that support the mental health of men.

Poor mental health certainly cannot be undermined, it leads to innumerable issues that impact every sector of one’s life.

Physical and mental breakdowns, depression, substance abuse, addictions, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are amongst the prevalent challenges that emerge when men neglect their mental health.

In fact, the World Health Organisation identified suicide as disproportionately affecting males and being the leading killer of males under the age of fifty.

Although there are countless factors that result in these challenges, it is imperative that they are mitigated and grappled with effectively.

When society considers ways in which mental health can be addressed, they often think of specialists such as psychologists and psychiatrists, which can cost an exorbitant amount of money. However, there are countless forms of therapeutic interventions that people can undertake individually, in order to improve their mental health.

Most popularly, religion and spirituality are exemplary ways of affirming positive mental health. Physical activity is also a popular activity in boosting mental health. This can range from a daily walk, to skateboarding or biking, to extreme activities such as zip lining and river rafting.

In in the Southern African region, but particularly in South Africa, approximately 75% of adults, equating to over 25 million people, actively participate in a sport and partake in daily exercise.

There are various online channels which support and provide mental health strategies, and activities that assist in this. What is popularly undertaken is yoga and meditation, which are key to mental awareness and fostering tranquillity.

Sound baths, immersing oneself in nature, gardening, journaling, and even self-care activities such as taking a long bath, are amongst various methods of improving one’s mental health.

Men are not immune to the immense challenges faced in our daily lives. They face varying forms of financial, legal, professional, and even social issues that must be addressed. The continuous side-lining of these issues only bolsters the chance for further disintegration, such as drug and alcohol dependence, violence towards their significant other, their children, emotional outbursts that could damage their career and reputation, and self-medicating which poses a dangerous risk to one’s health.

In addition to this, over half of the entire Southern African population lives below the poverty line. Socio-economic struggles are prevalent within mental health discourses. It is therefore pertinent that males across our society are aware of the ways in which their lived realities affect them, and their overall mental wellness.

Sadly, our socialisation has resulted in our society treating males like machines, rather than humans and this is unacceptable in the day and era of enlightenment.

As a society, we do not consider the wellbeing of boys with the seriousness that it deserves. As a result, they grow up to suppress, dismiss, and abuse themselves and those around them.

Society actively withholds men’s right to convey their feelings, and as such, they express themselves in physical and violent ways.

Yes, men are responsible for their own mental health, but women are also responsible for withholding judgement and persecutions against males who face these challenges. Young men in particular tend to exhibit traits of toxic masculinity in order to impress a young lady, or to reaffirm his masculinity to other males.

It is pertinent that all members of society are aware of and actively partake in highlighting mental health amongst men, and how to identify its declination accordingly.

This issue is one of socialisation, and needs to be addressed from a foundational phase, amongst young boys and girls. In fact, men’s mental health should be focused on not only in the month of June, but all year around.

According to some intuitive saying, “if you are not served love on a silver spoon when you are young, you will lick it off a knife when you are grown”. This is particularly valuable to understanding the ways in which masculinity and male mental health affects males, not only nationally, but across global societies.

Mental health amongst males can no longer be disregarded, as this only exacerbates the isolation and frustration that many males already experience. The importance of male mental health is one that needs to be reaffirmed in our communities - not only by males, but by every member of our society.

On this men’s mental health month, I appeal to all the members of our society to rethink the way that men are regarded, the ways we are socialised, and the future that we would like to actualise for ourselves collectively.

Men are not alone, cannot be and should not be. As earnestly spoken by former US president Andrew Jackson: “One man with courage makes a majority.”

Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender & Social Justice Activist, published weekly in the Sunday Independent, IOL, Sunday Tribune and Eswatini Daily News. She is the Editor at the Global South Media Network, and an Ethics Tutor in the Arts Faculty of UWC. She is also an Andrew W. Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.

Sunday Independent