Bra Stan, his figure resembling more of a shadow than a man, greeted me with a weary smile. His once robust frame now appeared gaunt, his clothes worn and frayed, and his sneakers, a melancholic reminder of better days—a past where he embodied success, a guiding light for all of us youngsters. He possessed everything one could dream of: a grand house, sleek cars, discipline, and a vision for a prosperous life. He even had DSTV before it became popular in the township. Witnessing him like this, pained me deeply, and I couldn't help but inquire, "What happened, Bra Stan? What went wrong, my elder?"
Bra Stan, his voice trembling, opened up like a sorrowful book. "Ah, I'm not sure where to begin, but I'll try. Life was sweet, everything was going well. I worked hard, remained focused, and achieved great things. Yet, I felt an emptiness... I yearned for someone to share my life with, to protect, and to start a family. That's when I met Mbali, an embodiment of unparalleled beauty... Ngwanyana wa dikoti marameng. We married within months, and she gave birth to our twins. We travelled the world together."
"But life can be unpredictable... A recession struck, business dwindled, and profits plummeted. When I told Mbali we had to cut back on luxuries, she flew into a rage. 'You are the man,' she said, 'work harder, provide, or I'm leaving.' Her words pierced me like a dagger. How could she be so callous after everything we had been through?"
"Driven to desperation, I immersed myself in an unrelenting whirlwind of work, all in an attempt to salvage my marriage. The constant pressure and humiliation consumed me day and night and even led me to contemplate suicide. Yet somehow, I found the strength to push those dark thoughts aside." His voice lowered to a whisper as he recounted the subsequent part of his story, "Mbali began to demean me... I pleaded with her, asking why? What had I done to deserve this? Her words, filled with cutting cruelty, labelled me as weak and worthless."
"Indoda ayikhali dom kop," she sneered, her disdain like a slap in the face.
The final blow came a month later when the sheriff arrived with divorce papers. Mbali accused me of financial abuse. "I lost everything, every last thing I had worked for. Now, I'm the subject of mockery, a 'dom kop' as they call me." Depression has settled in, and Bra Stan is adrift.
As heart-wrenching as Bra Stan's tale is, it is not an isolated one. Globally, over six million men grapple with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more. In South Africa alone, approximately 4.2% of men report experiencing feelings of depression and anxiety. One out of every three of these men turn to medication to manage their symptoms, yet nearly half of them have never discussed their mental health with anyone.
It is alarming that 70% of men battling these issues do not seek help. June is Men's Mental Health Awareness Month—an invitation for all of us to lend an ear and support the men in our lives. Our brothers, fathers, and uncles—we must encourage them to seek assistance, to address their conditions. It begins with empathy, understanding, and a willingness to extend a helping hand. Remember, there is no shame in seeking help. Today's youngster could be tomorrow's Bra Stan.