A Men’s Dialogue for Mental Health featuring industry experts and a student panel was recently hosted by the Department of Student Affairs, and Student Wellness Service.
Why do men account for less than 25% of the University of Cape Town (UCT) students who take advantage of the Student Wellness Service (SWS), when they are at most risk of suicide or attempted suicide? This complex question, along with others, surfaced during an engaging all-male panel discussion made up of industry experts and student representatives during the recently held Men’s Dialogue for Mental Health.
Facilitator, Umana Niwenshuti, a humanities PhD student, noted that the discussion was designed to hear and examine men’s experiences. Balance, checking in, compassion, conversation, health, hope, perspective and vulnerability were keywords used by the audience to initially define mental health, and these themes were picked up by the panel.
“As African men we can talk about anything, but not about mental health. We cannot be vulnerable and admit we need to see a psychologist.”
Zamokuhle Mabaso, a SWS principal nurse practitioner, was initially drawn to the field of men’s mental health by the incongruity shown in men, who would actively look after their appearance and career, but not their own mental health. Mabaso shared about the tragic passing of his older brother to suicide when in high school. “As African men we can talk about anything, but not about mental health. We cannot be vulnerable and admit we need to see a psychologist. I lost my brother, and as a result I want to be able to help others so they do not lose their lives,” he said. Mabaso said that he has started to witness progress, with men starting to understand that what they have been taught or observed at home may not be as applicable in this new millennium.
A new emotional language
“Even five years ago, male students would not have been as willing to engage with SWS as they are today,” said SWS medical officer Dr Andrew Young, who has been working with between 40 and 50 students at any one time for the past several years. He said it’s about creating a new language in order to be able to talk about issues, to separate oneself from one’s triggers, to discuss attitudes with peers and encourage one another to ask for help.