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CITY GIRL: Depression among men is a ticking time bomb

Last week, tears flowed freely at a high-profile event organised by women leaders when families of women who had lost their lives to femicide told of their agony.

Three weeks earlier, Ivy Wangechi was hacked to death by a man claiming to be her boyfriend. Pauline Wangari, a young prison warder, was murdered by a man she met on Facebook. Milcah Mwangi, a woman in her forties, was killed by her husband, Mr Albert Mwangi, in a tragic murder-suicide case.

The message at the vigil was very clear: Femicide has to end.

But even as such well-meaning events and gestures continue to remind us of this glaring crisis, today, I want us to talk about the elephant in the room, perhaps the biggest issue we have in Kenya right now — mental health. Depression, especially among men, is Kenya’s best kept open secret. It is a ticking time bomb. This is a country teeming with men disturbed, stressed and depressed.

WHO STATISTICS

According to statistics from the World Health Organization in 2017, four per cent of the total world population is suffering from depression.

Local studies point to 13.2 cases of depression for every 100,000 Kenyans, but from the nature of the disease and the stigma around it, my suspicions are there could be more Kenyans — especially men — suffering from depression.

The saddest part is that many Kenyan men suffering from depression neither look it nor do they know what is eating them up. They think they are just ‘having a bad day’ while in essence, they are depressed.

And they are suffering in a deep, dark silence. Many Kenyan men are sad. They have lost interest in their lives and jobs and some find it extremely difficult to wake up in the morning. A good number force themselves to show up to work because they have mouths to feed and bills to pay.

Many of them are battling low self-esteem and they can’t quite shake off the idea that they are underachievers compared with their more successful friends. They are battling thoughts of failure at work, in their marriages and relationships — all alone with nobody to share with.

Long after their wives and girlfriends have fallen asleep beside them, these men find themselves struggling to find sleep — you will find them wide awake at 2am, not watching football, but staring into the dark ceiling, wondering when all this will ever end.

POOR CONCENTRATION

They have poor concentration. It is not that they do not want to pay attention to what is being said in that meeting at work; it is just their minds are a tornado of thoughts, painful, sad and hopeless thoughts, making them wonder if at all life is worth living. They are often tired, chronically fatigued and even when they finally sleep, they wake up extremely tired because they went to sleep but never really got any rest.

The interesting thing is that it is difficult to point out a depressed man, especially because they are the most put-together people around us. They are in our homes, our offices, in our churches. If we are serious about putting an end to femicide, we must be aware of the two sides of this coin.

Women are being killed by men — depressed men — and it is only until we destigmatise mental health in Kenya that we will get to the root of femicide.

I am suggesting that we get serious about mental health in the same way we are serious about HIV/Aids and cancer. Because mental health is a cancer in its own right — a cancer to society — we need to mainstream it. We need to talk more about depression — especially among men — and make it okay for a man to admit that he is not okay.

We need more counsellors on the ground. We need them affordable and we must have call centres and safe houses where men who are on the brink of giving up can walk in and say, “I need help” without being considered less of a man. We also need more male survivors of depression to come out in public and share their stories; that depression is real, but most importantly, manageable.

There is no two ways about this folks, the fight against femicide begins with the mainstreaming of mental health.