A Silent Pandemic – Men’s Mental Health

SAFMH News Room

Men’s mental health is the hot topic of the month. Unfortunately, it often loses the attention it deserves outside of June, a truth that has detrimental effects on the lives and well-being of many South African men.

While there is a modern movement towards gender equality, many expectations placed on individuals in South Africa are still rooted in traditional gender, societal, and cultural norms (Makhubu, 2023). While these norms can be a source of great pride and strength, they can also impose expectations that may be detrimental to the mental health of many, both men and women (Makhubu, 2023; Ngwenya & Sumbane, 2022; Pan, 2022). Men often face the expectation to remain strong and silent in the face of extraordinarily difficult challenges, leading to some shocking and dangerous statistics (SA Federation for Mental Health, 2023; South African Society of Psychiatrists, 2024).

In 2019 (just 5 years ago), around 13,774 mental health-related deaths were reported in South Africa; 10,861 of these deaths (approximately 79%) were men (South African Society of Psychiatrists, 2024; Pan, 2022). This statistic sits alongside South Africa’s ranking as the country with the 10th highest suicide rate in the world (Gema, 2023). This ranking is made even more shocking when we recognise that there are 195 recognized countries in the world.

Suicide is not the only measure of mental health and well-being. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is defined as “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community” (WHO, 2024). Mental well-being, as a concept, refers to “thriving in various areas of life, such as in relationships, work, and play, despite ups and downs” (Gautam et al., 2024). “It is the knowledge that we are separate from our problems and the belief that we can handle those problems” (Gautam et al., 2024).

The signs and symptoms of depression, stress, and burnout in men are not always in line with what we traditionally expect (Gema, 2023). Men are often taught to adhere to masculine stoicism and fear the stigma of being seen as weak (Gema, 2023; Ngwenya & Sumbane, 2022). This has resulted in harmful coping mechanisms that negatively impact not only the individual but also those around them (Gema, 2023; Ngwenya & Sumbane, 2022).

The belief that acknowledging mental health challenges is a weakness often leads men down a path of destructive behaviours. These can include alcohol and substance abuse, reckless sexual behaviours, emotional outbursts, and even violence (Gema, 2023; Ngwenya & Sumbane, 2022). Poor mental health among men is also linked to the high rates of gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa (Gema, 2023). The increase in GBV is strongly related to the decline in men’s mental health, exacerbated by factors such as unemployment, job scarcity, and the rising cost of living (Gema, 2023).

For most of history, men were taught to suppress and manage their emotions, leading many to struggle with emotional awareness and processing. This lack of emotional awareness often results in men feeling disconnected and hesitant to seek help from friends, family, or peers, making the journey through mental health challenges extraordinarily lonely and damaging (Makhubu, 2023).

When examining the extent of men’s mental health challenges in South Africa, it is evident that we are facing a silent pandemic. If we cannot create an environment where boys and men feel that sharing, admitting, and dealing with their mental health challenges is not a sign of weakness but a step toward becoming better and more capable individuals, then we are leaving them to fight in the trenches of a war without support.

A huge thank you to Cornelis Johannes Nel (BPSYCH Hons, HPCSA Registered Counsellor) for putting together this insightful piece.

Help is available. The National Suicide Crisis Line is 0800 567 567. This number is free, operates 24/7 and offers counselling in all 11 official languages. 


Gautam, S., Chaudhary, J., Gautam, M., Gaur, M., & Grover, S. (2024). Concept of mental health and mental well-being, it’s determinants and coping strategies. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 66(2), 231-244. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103%2Findianjpsychiatry.indianjpsychiatry_707_23

Gema, S. (2023). MENTAL HEALTH AND SOUTH AFRICAN MEN: A CAUSE FOR CONCERN. Retrieved from Health Systems Trust: https://www.hst.org.za/media/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=188

HST. (2024). Dear Men: We Need To Talk About Mental Health. Retrieved from Health Systems Trust: https://www.hst.org.za/media/Pages/DEAR-MEN-WE-NEED-TO-TALK-ABOUT-MENTAL-HEALTH.aspx

Makhubu, N. (2023). Men in South Africa are suffering from major mental health issues and suicide. Retrieved from IOL.co.za: https://www.iol.co.za/pretoria-news/news/men-in-south-africa-are-suffering-from-major-mental-health-issues-and-suicide-4356ae3b-3abf-4a59-a975-b6208d553543

Ngwenya, M. W., & Sumbane, G. O. (2022). The Urgency of Access to Men-Centered Mental Healthcare Services to Address Men’s Sensitive Issues in the Communities of South Africa. Healthcare Access – New Threats, New Approaches. doi:DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.108493

Pan, Z. (2022). South African men’s mental health is a life-and-death issue. Retrieved from Mail & Guardian: https://mg.co.za/thought-leader/opinion/2022-10-19-south-african-mens-mental-health-is-a-life-and-death-issue/

Peterson, T. J. (2022). What Is Mental Wellbeing? Definition and Examples. Retrieved from HealthyPlace: https://www.healthyplace.com/self-help/self-help-information/what-mental-wellbeing-definition-and-examples

SA Federation for Mental Health. (2023). EXPLAINER SERIES: MEN AND MENTAL HEALTH. Retrieved from SA Federation for Mental Health: https://www.safmh.org/explainer-series-men-and-mental-health/

South African Society of Psychiatrists. (2024). Suicide Among Men-Stigma Prevents Seeking Help. Retrieved from https://www.sasop.co.za/: https://www.sasop.co.za/mens-health

WHO. (2024). Mental Health. Retrieved from World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response#:~:text=Mental%20health%20is%20a%20state,and%20contribute%20to%20their%20community.

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