10 September 2018 – On World Suicide Prevention Day, 10 September, visitors to the Silo District at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront were greeted with the sight of three people sitting in barber chairs. One was Daryl Brown, a suicide survivor, Christine Wessels, who lost her boyfriend to suicide and the third was Jonathan Manuel, a Social Worker for Cape Mental Health.
For the past three years, Movember South Africa has adopted mental health awareness as one of their outcomes and health focusses, and delivered a mental health awareness campaign supporting World Suicide Prevention Day. This year, the awareness campaign surrounding World Suicide Prevention Day pre-empts the annual Movember campaign launch at the end of September, with the message to encourage South African men to talk and ‘Be a Man of More Words’.
The link between barber chairs and suicide may not be immediately obvious, but according to Garron Gsell, chief executive and founder of the Men’s Foundation, barbers often provide the safe space where men can embark on being a Man of More Words, feeling free to talk, especially when times get tough, in the confidence that they will be heard.
“Too many men try to deal with challenges on their own and suffer in silence. We’re hoping to show men that talking saves lives. To deal better with tough times, and to be the dads, mates and sons they want to be, be men of more words. We want men and their supporters to know that talking – more and with more meaningful words – saves lives,’ he says.
In a country where on average 14-18 men are dying by suicide every day, three times more than the number of women, it is clear that we are in a crisis situation. (https://africacheck.org/reports/5facts-sad-extent-suicide-south-africa/)
“It’s time for us to turn the tide on male suicide in South Africa,” Gsell says. “Besides reducing the stigma surrounding depression and mental health, men need to realise that whatever they’re going through, it’s important to know that a simple conversation can make all the difference. This is one of the reasons why we’re establishing South African Movember-rated Barbers who are equipped to listen and link men to professional help when needed.”
One of the barbers who will be undergoing training involved in the Movember-rated Barbers programme which outlines suicide prevention is Boyden Barnardo, owner of Freedom Hair Barbering and Coffee in Mellville, Johannesburg.
“There is an unwritten rule that what is said at the barber, stays at the barber,” he says. “Men talk when they are in the barber chair,” he said. “They feel comfortable and they open up because there is a level of trust that’s been developed and enjoyed between men and their barbers, where they feel that they can talk when things get tough.”
Barnardo, who has faced his own battles with depression, and who lost his mother to cancer last year, is proud to be a Movember-rated Barber. “I’ve learned so much about how to ask, really listen, and encourage action. I’ve realised that Talking Saves Lives and through talking, we can look for the right answers and provide support.”
According to Cape Mental Health, the stigma attached to mental health often makes it taboo for men to openly acknowledge that they are not coping or require help. This results in men suffering in silence in fear of being judged until suicide becomes their only option.
“We want to emphasize that being healthy is not just about keeping fit and eating right,” says Manuel. “Getting your mind right forms part of your holistic health and we want to encourage men to break their silence and reach out.”
Gsell agrees, adding that funding for men’s health, particularly mental health, in South Africa requires continued destigmatisation through media as well as the public at large -depression and mental health requires prioritisation.
“The reality is that government funding primarily focuses on women, children and the elderly, leaving a lot to be desired for South African men from disadvantaged communities, who are left to rely on the private and NGO sector for help,” Gsell says.
If you’ve become a Man of More Words and would like to support, donate or participate, share your own stories with Movember South Africa using the tagline “to be a man of less (e.g. anger, sadness, anxiety), I had to be a Man of More Words.”
You may also know someone who could be suffering in silence or is in need of a real conversation – show them that you care. Gsell adds ‘The first step in looking out for the men in our lives is to take time out to talk to them and simply Ask, Listen, Encourage Action and check in – Because Talking Saves Lives.”
For more information on local programmes, visit www.movember.com.
What are the early warning signs of suicide?
- The person seems more withdrawn than usual. There has been a steady decrease in the way they interact with you or people within their immediate environment.
- The person loses interest in doing things and detaches themselves from social commitments.
- There might be increased substance abuse, anxiety, drastic mood changes, having no sense of purpose, uncontrolled anger or reckless behaviour.
- Cape Mental Health
Where to turn for help:
Lifeline – 0861 322 322
Suicide Crisis line – 0800 567 567
For tips on having better conversations and guidance on how to start a conversation with someone you’re worried about, the Movember Foundation recommends four simple steps to important conversations: Ask. Listen. Encourage Action. Check In (ALEC).
Check out Movember’s video on https://we.tl/t-nNTtJl3563.
For more info, download the Movember app on your mobile device. Follow Movember on social media: @MovemberRSA on Twitter or facebook/MovemberSouthAfrica.