Alarming suicide rates for South African men

Jonathan Manuel, a social worker for Cape Mental Health; Daryl Brown, a suicide survivor and Christine Wessels, who lost her boyfriend to suicide, at the V&A Waterfront on Monday September 10, which marks World Suicide Prevention Day.

Talking saves lives – that was the message three people wanted the public to hear as they sat in barber’s chairs at the Silo District on Monday.

One of the three lost her boyfriend to suicide, another lost his legs in a failed suicide attempt and the third helps those contemplating suicide

They were there on World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, to support a drive by Movember South Africa, a men’s health awareness organisation, which recently incorporated mental health awareness into its programme.

Since many men trust and confide in their barbers, the chairs were used as a symbol, showing that help can be found anywhere.

Garron Gsell, founder of Movember South Africa, said men were taking their lives at an alarming rate.

“There are about 220 suicide attempts daily in South Africa, and 10% manage to end their lives. Of the 10 percent, four out of five are men, and one of the reasons for that is that men are exposed to more gruesome ways of killing themselves.

“The message that we have is that talking can save lives. We want men to become men of more words. Too many men deal with challenges on their own and suffer in silence. We want them to know that they are not the only ones – because you are not talking, you don’t realise that you’re not the only one.”

Mr Gsell said they wanted to reduce the stigma around depression and mental health.

“Men need to know that conversation can make all the difference. We want them to know it’s okay not to be okay, and that they can reach out and get help.

“It’s a very human aspect for us to face challenges.”

Christine Wessels, from Woodstock, lost her boyfriend, Garth Stead, a well-known photographer, to suicide nine years ago. She said Garth was very intense, and would go out late to take pictures of street children and would come home very emotional.

“He told me a few times that he wanted to commit suicide, but I thought that if he was saying it, he was just bluffing. Then he did it.”

Garth’s body was found in his Woodstock home after he hung himself in the attic.

“It was devastating. I ended up on my bathroom mat crying for months. It was devastating for his family as well. The guilt will always be with me – I always tell myself that if I had known better that I could’ve done more.”

While she believes everyone has the right to end their lives if things get too much, she says those contemplating suicide should make every effort to get help and think about those they leave behind.

“It’s okay for you because you’re gone, but you leave a trail of devastation for people who love you.”

She said the guilt never left, it just became lighter, but it had made her more sensitive to people.

“I just want people to talk about it and explore other options, because your decision can destroy lives.”

Daryl Brown, from Melkbos, struggled with depression from the age of 12, but tried to deal with it on his own because “everyone went through things and I just tried to figure it out myself”.

“I did different things to try to cure myself except getting help. I moved to London as a last resort, and I loved it there. I was comfortable. I wanted to stay on to work there, but I couldn’t get a work visa. I also had my first romantic relationship in London.”

After six months he had to return home and felt like a complete failure.

“I was tired of waiting for the day when everything was going to be okay. So I planned and I told all my friends I was going home to Cape Town, deactivated my social media accounts and went to the train station.

“I waited for the platform to clear as to not traumatise too many people and then I jumped – that’s how I lost my legs.”

His first session with his psychologist was a turning point for him.

“For the first time I felt like I was not alone. I came back to Cape Town and found that most of my friends had also been going through difficulties that they didn’t talk about.

“Everyone is suffering in silence, so I decided to speak about my ordeal so that people can feel more confident to speak about theirs.”

His message to people contemplating suicide is that they just need to tell someone.

“We all feel ashamed to tell our friends, but if we open up, there will be someone who will be there for you.”

Mr Manuel, of Cape Mental Health, said men needed to start talking to each other.

“Each man should have a person of accountability that they can be vulnerable to. Once you get drawn to secrecy, you get pulled into darkness and that’s when you decide to take your own life.”

Mr Manuel works with pupils from Zeekoevlei High School and Ocean View High School, weekly. He counsels teenagers who have suicidal thoughts or tendencies.

“The pupils that come for counselling are mostly females. There could be more boys, but they don’t talk easily.

“Men become overwhelmed, and they don’t share the burden. They need to show people that they are in control and that their partners and families can count on them, so they internalise emotions.

“Another trend we see is
that men don’t deal with earlier trauma that needs to be worked through.”

He said men should make a point of finding someone to speak to when they were struggling.

Supporting the initiative at the V&A Waterfront were sisters Victoria Norman, from Table View, and Vanessa Clarke, from Bellville, who organise an annual Suicide Prevention Day event at Hang Time climbing gym in Bellville.

The sisters are both suicide survivors and bipolar. They decided to do the event to create awareness and help people talk about mental-health issues.

“On the day, we have children’s entertainment, rock climbing, talks and live music, but, most importantly, we get people talking,” said Ms Norman.

“We want to change the stigma and change mindsets around mental health.”

Ms Clarke said the theme for this year’s event was “One good day”, because one good day could change someone’s life.

“It was amazing to hear complete strangers talk about their experiences, and those who survived, giving someone else a sense of comfort and understanding, because there is a big feeling of guilt from families of those who have lost someone.”

She said the Suicide Prevention Day event would take place every year around World Suicide Day, and would be held on a Sunday so that everyone could attend.