Slikour, Chris Jaftha and Ndumiso Lindi get real on mental health

Slikour has previously opened up about his struggle with depression.
Slikour has previously opened up about his struggle with depression.
Image: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape.

Remember when South African men had a fictitious men’s conference to escape buying Valentine’s Day gifts? They should probably have a real one to discuss depression and suicide because the figures are alarming.

On average, 18 South African men die by suicide every day, three times more than the number of women. Globally, suicide accounts for half of all violent deaths among men. It gets worse, the number of suicides in Gauteng has also increased dramatically. According to financial services company Liberty, their suicide claims almost doubled, from 78 in 2017 to 152 last year.

Psychologist Gerhard Grundling says men tend to be more ill-tempered when they are depressed, which is postulated as one of the factors leading to suicide.

Other factors include social isolation, loss of a loved one, imprisonment and unemployment. “Substance abuse, including alcohol, increases the risk of suicide dramatically.

“When people feel abandoned, combined with depression, risk for suicide increases, ” he says. Many would think that adoring fans and a successful career makes public figures immune to suicide but it does not.

Award-winning rapper Jabulani “HHP” Tsambo committed suicide in October last year and the year before that Yizo Yizo star Christopher Khubeka also took his life. Top cardiologist professor Bongani Mayosi shocked his family, friends and students when he committed suicide last year. Seeing that suicide shadows those in the limelight too, comedian Ndumiso Lindi, rapper and businessman Siyabonga “Slikour” Metane and television presenter Chris Jaftha shared their thoughts on mental health.

“Men always want to come across (especially to other men), like they ’re in control of any situation. They think if they ask for help they ’re showing weakness,” Lindi says. “Guys even go through a heart break and act like warriors in front of their friends.” The need to mask pain and seem on top of things is something Slikour is familiar with. The award-winning rapper suffered from depression eight years ago and never disclosed it to anyone at the time.

“I literally started recollecting everything and it felt like I wasn’t enough after everything I’ve done with my career and in my life. I felt inadequate,” he says.

Jaftha believes it is important to watch our thoughts as a way to overcome mental distress. “You have to watch your thoughts because your thoughts become your actions; your actions become your destiny. I think a lot of us allow our thoughts to control us and to define us,” he says.

The TV star also believes that it is important to use the media to raise awareness about mental health issues. Grundling applauds male celebrities who use their platforms to speak openly about depression because he believes this will help others see that suffering from depression doesn’t change who you are.

Slikour says setting himself free from society’s pressures is what helped him overcome depression. “I started spending a lot of time on my own just to get away from the idea of perfection, communal expectations and communal judgment.

“I just started following whatever feeling I had, saying what I felt, and so I literally started making myself a universe in my own head,” he reflects.

Although men can be closed off when it comes to expressing their emotions, Grundling says he’s seen an improvement in how men deal with mental health over his 31 years in practice.

“When I started to practice as a clinical psychologist I saw very few men. In 2019 this has changed to almost a 50/50 gender split. We see far more men being admitted to hospital for mental health issues. I think things are improving.”

As much as things are improving there’s still more to be done. Slikour believes the conversation about depression should form part of a broader one about societal pressures and expectations.

“I think expectations are what’s really disrupting us.

“We move from expectations in the family, [to] expectations at work and expectations from our friends, and the expectations we have of ourselves.

“These things are literally like a maze in life and you’re expected to be 100% for all of them, and if you’re just okay it feels like you’re a failure,” he says. Grundling believes that more conversations about depression among men are needed so they can understand and recognise it. “Also very important is that the message that one can get help and that help is available must be spread,” he says. 

■ If you or your loved one need help, visit the South African Depression and Anxiety Group on www.sadag.org or contact their 24 hours helpline on 0800-456-789.

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