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Man Up? The Crushing Weight of Masculinity on Mental Health in Ghana

Mental health affects everyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. It's time to break the silence and encourage young Ghanaian boys to prioritize their mental health, seek help when needed, and view vulnerability as a sign of strength.

The phrases, “I taya; I dey Stress,” meaning “I am tired; I am stressed” are words the average Ghanaian male youth groans at least twice a week in this country. It usually comes after a long day of facing life’s traumatising situations. These phrases are either reiterated rhetorically in the confines of a room or to another male friend, who is also wading through life’s quicksand of problems.

The phrases above have become a prevalent slang among young men in Ghana. Despite their lamentations, these young individuals bottle up their emotions and suffer in silence, neglecting their mental and emotional well-being in the process.

A lot of Ghanaian boys are taught to be resilient in the face of adversity from infancy. A young male toddler trips and falls while learning to walk. He looks tearfully in the direction of his parents for help, but his father recites the famous Akan mantra “Obarima Nsu,” (a man does not cry) and tells him to get up. The child’s pain from the fall is quickly brushed off, and he is told that to grow, he must learn to bear pain. The resilient mindset is instilled in his young mind on the spot

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In an impoverished household, the only male child in a family with many female siblings is quickly pushed to assume the role as head of the house, as both parents grow weary with age. He is tasked with finding a well-paying job in a poverty-stricken Ghanaian economy, in order to cater to the family’s needs. Overwhelmed with anxiety, he slowly succumbs to the pressure of finding solutions to his woes. Withdrawal symptoms set in, leading to severe stress and depression. He walks around with repressed emotions, faking a smile in response to greetings from familiar people to prevent them from detecting his gloomy mood. He heaves in exasperation and consoles himself with a low-pitched “e go be,” slipping back into overthinking without seeking professional help or counselling from medical experts.

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A man must not cry. A man must not talk too much or express his grievances. These are the perceived rules of a man’s life. No one knows the author of these stoic rules. However, one thing is certain, these unwritten rules form part of the reasons the male youth in Ghana detest seeking counselling from therapists. Why board a car to go share your problems with another person? It is even worse if the therapist is a woman, as it appears weak and emasculating. Imagine the “boys boys” hearing about a comrade in the group who went to “cry to a woman.” He immediately becomes the subject of endless ridicule in the neighbourhood. He has broken the rule to being a man, he becomes an outcast who does not fit in the circle of the hard guys.

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A young boy in Ghana finding genuine love has even become an issue due to societal expectations. Some young men are tasked with being sole providers for their romantic partners, putting a strain on them. Kwame is expected to be the provider, even if Ama earned the same as him. Every outing saw Kwame shouldering the cost, a silent test of his worth. This leaves him questioning her true feelings. Did Ama even like him, or was she simply enjoying the dinners and treats? Kwame yearned for a relationship built on genuine connection, not financial obligation. He eventually loses his job and discovers the true foundation on which his relationship with Ama was built. Like a stranded  passenger anxiously waiting for a ride on a desolate highway, the love of his life moves  into the embrace of the next man, bound for a destination that no longer includes him. Heartbroken with no source of income or friends to open up to, Kwame breaks down mentally and resorts to good old suicide as a means of ending it all.

Worldwide, suicide is a major cause of death among men. It is reported that almost 800,000 people die from suicide annually and the rate among men stands about 75 to 80%. This is especially the case for men under the age of 50. Here in Ghana, a report by the Ghana Health Service report in 2021 indicated that there were 707, 880 and 777 suicide attempts in 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively.

Further studies show that men make up a bigger portion of these numbers. In essence, suicidal patterns in the country are predominantly a male problem. The crippling weight of the world and the ever-heavy responsibilities of the male child is a burden to reckon with that some are unfortunately unable to overcome it. With a crumpling economy and unwelcoming social arenas, men are forced to deal with their issues alone.

“Charley man really taya.”

Mental health affects everyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. It’s time to break the silence and encourage young Ghanaian boys to prioritize their mental health, seek help when needed, and view vulnerability as a sign of strength. Mental health is just as important as physical health, yet it’s often neglected and stigmatized. Let’s empower young men to prioritize their mental wellbeing and break down the stigma surrounding mental health.

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