t has recently come to my attention that there are a number of Malawians struggling with issues of mental health.
What is particularly interesting for me is the news reports that at least 150 men have committed suicide in the last few months. That may seem like a small number but when you think about it, each and every one of these men had loved ones that they interacted with, loved ones that cared for them, looked up to them and adored them.
These men had people who truly cared for them and appreciated them, but despite all the love and admiration that the world can offer them, they still felt lonely, they still felt low and depressed. One hundred and fifty is probably what we are aware of at the moment. What if the number is higher than that?
I feel what we need as a nation is to create spaces that address issues of mental health head on and not running away from them. We need spaces where people, especially men, can go and lay bare their worries and pains without being stigmatised or looked at as being weak.
Despite the issue that we do not have these spaces, our culture does not encourage the public display of emotions or opening about life by men. The moment a man sheds a tear, immediately our minds say “angatithandize awa” (can he truly help us). Yet in that particular moment the man also has felt the pain and embraced his emotions to the point that he lets it out in the best way possible.
Our Malawian culture and society are set in such a way that those who in any way try to be as vulnerable will either have their problems aired out into the public or will be ridiculed and looked down on. Yet that is not the way. We need to begin considering the value of trust and confidentiality when people come to confide in us.
I believe it is time Malawian society realised that men are not emotionless cyborgs, but rather that men too have feelings and emotions. They too should be allowed to express how they feel about certain things. They too need to be asked if they are alright.
I believe that it is necessary if we want to reduce the number of suicides in Malawi, especially among men that we create safe and open spaces where issues that are brought are kept there. Where those struggling with different things in their lives are encouraged and find hope in the best possible way.
What if we started to create such spaces? What if all the different stakeholders, from government, private sector and non-governmental organisations agreed to come together and look at the struggles that men go through and find practical ways to address these challenges as soon as possible?
What if the solution was in giving men the opportunity to talk about how they felt about certain things? What if we said we would create such spaces that would be totally anonymous and even clinics to encourage men? Wouldn’t we be able to bring down that number of suicide cases in Malawi?
This can and will be done, but in order to do that, everyone has to be willing to play their part because even at the end of the day the problem is not just on one gender or group but rather in our society.
So, let us look at developing safe spaces to encourage more accountability and honesty among the men in Malawi. Spaces that encourage men to open up and be who they want. Spaces that foster the strength of men through humility and gentleness.
The nation is crying for its young men who have gone to the grave a little too early because they could not open up about how they truly felt inside. Let us help one another. Let us come to the table with different solutions for the struggles that men face.