Baba Goni is a 42-year-old Bank Manager who has always provided responsibly for his family. He is proud to take care of his parents, younger siblings as well as his wife and 3 children. The younger children are in a good boarding school, while the eldest is already in a private university. His wife is a Pharmacist and she runs a successful pharmacy shop. He sometimes had a sneaky suspicion that she may actually be making more money than him, but it was not a problem as it was his responsibility to cater for the family and he is comfortably able to do so. Until things started going down south. The economic recession hit his bank hard and the bank retrenched more than half of the non-essential staff, while management staff like himself were placed on half salary. This situation has persisted for 10 months now. Unfortunately for him, he had just taken a loan facility 2 months earlier to complete his duplex in a choice area of Maiduguri. Afterall, all his friends and family had been harassing him that he was still living in a rented apartment.
However, his repayment plan took about 30% of his salary but he was living comfortably on the balance of 70% of his salary. But with his salary reduced by half now, he was still servicing the loan with 30%, which effectively means he only had 20% of his usual income to live on now. Of course, this was nowhere near sufficient and he started worrying about paying bills and keeping up appearances. If his family needed anything, he would rather die than admit that he didn’t have the money. So, he resorted to borrowing from friends and family to cover up his shortfalls. He increasingly became anxious, irritable and was becoming depressed. His best friend, Ali Modu advised him to confide in his wife and re-strategize his financial expenses – she may even be able to help him out. But he refused. His pride will not allow him to ask her for financial support. It will mean that he would lose face, and be seen as less than a man. Or be made fun of, as a man who could not provide for his family. Lai lai. He resolved. I will keep managing until things get better. He concluded.
There is a false myth that has been perpetuated since men were small boys, that they have to be tough, and should not cry or show emotions. Any sign of weakness, meant they were not really boys or men. Yet we know that men and women are human beings with the same brain and emotions. Men experience the same emotions as women, can feel pain, hurt, shame, rejection, loss of self-confidence etc.
Furthermore, men also suffer from mental disorders, and have a higher risk for many serious mental disorders. They are two to three times more likely to abuse drugs than women; and are 5 times more likely to die from suicide than women. The number of men who die every year from alcohol related complications in the United States are more than twice (62,000) the number of women (26,000) who die from similar causes – according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Yet there is a lot of shame and stigma associated with men admitting they have emotional difficulties, talk less of seeking for help or treatment for them. It is therefore not surprising that men are less likely than women to seek for help until things deteriorate very badly, and they can no longer pretend that all is well. There is also the added societal pressure of stereotyping men as always strong, stoic and quietly enduring pain without complaints as is depicted by all heroic characters from the movies to comics and cartoons. Thus, any divergent behaviour is frowned upon and viewed as a failing or weakness; that is unbecoming of a real man. When you add the super-imposed pressure of being financially responsible and catering for a family – especially when there are false or unrealistic expectations of a minimum standard of comfort, then the stage is set for a crash, that may result in emotional problems. Or some will resort to alcohol and drugs as a coping strategy – which ultimately compounds the problem. In the case of Baba Goni, his wife was in a good position to bail him out but his inhibitions were self-imposed.
Ultimately, many men fail to take action to protect their emotional wellbeing and would rather suffer and die in silence. It’s high time we begin to focus on the mental health of boys and men. This will require unlearning wrong concepts that have become unconsciously ingrained, while learning new ways of doing things. One of the areas that most men need to learn and do better is communication – to be open about their vulnerabilities.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 4th August 2022