We don’t talk enough about the mental health of the African man, and how its fate depends on both archaic aggression and modernised toxicity.
Growing up, I realised that the image society created for men was not an easy one. From a very young age, an African boy becomes exposed to certain stereotypical worldviews. These worldviews, which are intended to curb certain human traits and shape boys into the kind of men society would love and admire, are inherently problematic.
When I was a kid, one of the boys fell and hurt his knee while we were playing. When he started to cry, a passerby, an older man, walked up to us and asked him how he expected to grow into a man if he continued to cry like a girl. This scene is one of the childhood memories that have stuck with me. I remember asking the man why a boy could not cry but a girl could, and he said, “Men have to be strong and not cry like babies when they face little troubles in life.” He continued that men should console women, not the other way around.
African society views the growing challenges of the boychild as little hurdles on his life journey. The patriarchal set-up across the continent relies on the African man as a key player, go-getter, emotional backbone, and primary breadwinner of the family unit. This man often has to go above and beyond what he can handle, sometimes trying to live up to unrealistic expectations. Our patriarchal society does not give room for softness or vulnerability in a man.
The rising demand, coupled with the inability to meet it, leads many men to depression and, sometimes, suicide, which has continued to increase in recent years. Even as a young adult, the African man has to plan and prove, not only to society but also to himself, that he can live up to and beyond the expectations set by society. He is raised to take over as the hardened man of the house. He aspires to take care of his family, provide for his lovers, and be self-sufficient to take on impromptu emergencies that may arise at any time.
African society tends to relate depression and other mental issues such as anxiety or nervous breakdowns to masculine weaknesses. We hear phrases like “the black man can never show weakness.” And African men have always upped their game to prove this statement from the beginning of time. Even in contemporary Africa, men would rather hide their worries than be seen as weaklings. Due to the fear of backlash, they hide and downplay their struggles.
The percentage of African men suffering from depression has significantly increased in the past decade. The likely causes have been linked to tremendous monetary, mental, and psychological pressures. Also, the number of African men suffering from domestic violence has increased. Men suffer from domestic violence too, but this is often disregarded because it is widely believed that men cannot be victims.
Moreover, society believes that men are biologically and mentally stronger. No man would readily admit that his wife abuses him physically or mentally; otherwise, he risks failing the standards against which society has placed him.
Recently, a man took to Twitter to express his brokenness after a painful breakup with his partner. I wasn’t surprised to see comments referring to him as a weakling, especially from fellow men. Some suggested he was wrong for being vulnerable and emotional when he could go out to fish for more women. Situations like this have become a repeated pattern in modern culture. They show that even the slightest ounce of vulnerability in African men opens them up to attacks from social predators who seem to set the standards of what people should be and how they should react to life issues if they are to be respected in society.
Because they are aware of society’s coldness toward male vulnerability, many African men suppress their emotions and thus become emotionally unavailable to those around them. Others who cannot shut down their emotional gauges would often find solace elsewhere, whether in drugs or women. And, if they are lucky, they might find their seemingly happy place in music, comedies, and sitcoms.
Other countries are beginning to link mental and psychological stress to certain behaviours in their men. In Africa, spiritual and extraterrestrial forces are often blamed for these behaviours.
The importance of African men’s mental health issues cannot be over-emphasized. African men are human; like women, they should be allowed to show their vulnerable, emotional side without the fear of being torn apart.