Advisor, Non-communicable Diseases, Injuries and Mental Health for AfricaCDC, Dr Naeem Dalal, has stressed the need to stop cultural stereotypes that prevent African men from seeking emotional and mental wellness help.
Mr Dalal spoke in Lusaka, Zambia, on the sidelines of a parallel session on youth mental health in Africa, at the International Conference on Public Health in Africa on Tuesday.
According to him, this is necessary as statistics specifically show that more men die by suicide on the continent..
The CPHIA, an annual event, is organised by the Africa Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention with the 2023 edition hosted by the Government of Zambia.
The CPHIA 2023 has the theme: “Breaking Barriers: Repositioning Africa in the Global Health Architecture.’’
The annual event runs from November 27 to November 30.
Dalal is a psychiatrist from Lusaka, Zambia, a youth mental health specialist and currently the National Mental Health, focal person and specialist for the Zambia National Public Health Institute.
He said: “There is more active suicide amongst men. When we talk about suicide, we need to understand two things. There’s suicide which is passive and suicide, which is active. Active suicide is where you die by suicide. Passive suicide is where you have thoughts of dying by killing yourself or harming yourself, but you don’t go ahead with those thoughts. So, that’s passive suicide.
“Now, when we talk about statistics specifically for men on the continent in Africa, more men die by suicide. So, there’s more active suicide amongst men. For every 50 per cent of it, it is amongst the men that die and this is because men use more lethal with dying.’’
Mr Dalal highlighted some reasons that make men resort to suicide rather than seek help.
“It’s also important to understand that men do not reach out for help for mental health concerns or issues that they face because of the culture that we have in Africa, where men are supposed to be supportive. Men are supposed to be responsible and breadwinners in communities. Showing that part of vulnerability is not something that is accepted in our communities across the African continent in general.
“And not just to stereotype it, but also to be factual that men are also taught not to be reaching out for help growing up as boys and boys are told to be strong and responsible. So, this also causes an issue for men to reach out for mental health services, even when they are there.
“These are the challenges we are facing,’’ he told NAN.
Mr Dalal proffered some solutions aimed at reducing suicide on the continent.
He stated, “However, the solutions and the implementations that Africa CDC is currently carrying out are in the non-communicable diseases, injuries and mental health strategy. They have flagship programmes that are looking at mental health advocacy for communities, looking also at men’s health.
“But in addition, there are also mental health fellowships that are coming up, where they will build capacity amongst healthcare workers to also seek mental health as a profession.
“This is because the other challenge is in Africa; healthcare workers do not want to do mental health speciality. These are the implementations that we are carrying out. We are also promoting more advocacy amongst the younger generation because the third leading cause of death by suicide is from the ages of 15 to 29.’’
According to Mr Dalal, intense advocacy is ongoing especially by the Africa CDC through the African Union.
“We are also advocating policy changes, where we make mental health applicable to the current realities that we are living,” he said.
He commended Nigeria for recently passing a bill on mental health.