5 facts about depression among men in South Africa

At least 20% of South Africans will suffer from a mental illness, like depression, at some point in their lives. The stigma surrounding depression and other mental illnesses has caused many patients, especially men, to feel ashamed and hide their struggle, because they view it as a weakness. It is estimated that 70% of sufferers remain undiagnosed, untreated and unsupported. This can have fatal consequences, as they do not then receive the healthcare that they need.

Here are some of the facts about depression in men:

1) Active discrimination is the most damaging aspect of stigma, along with the misuse of power, labelling and stereotyping. Many men blame and judge themselves for falling short of societal norms on masculinity, resulting in self-stigmatisation that makes them reluctant to seek professional help.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group

This and more information can be found at SADAG.org

2) Depression causes one to feel out of control and unable to cope with life situations. Many men feel that this undermines their masculinity and they turn to suicide as a way of regaining control. They are a threat not only to themselves, but also to those around them, particularly their family members, who they believe will not be provided for without them.

3) Men often don’t want to deal with the symptoms of depression and instead turn to alcohol, recreational drugs, and risky behaviours, such as reckless driving and unprotected sex.

4) Attempting to suppress their emotions and avoid the underlying psychological issues, some men immerse themselves in escapist behaviour, like overworking, excessive exercise or extreme sports.

5) There are many symptoms of depression that are common to both men and women, such as sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, irritability, exhaustion and lethargy, insomnia or oversleeping, and a change in eating patterns.

If you suspect that a loved one is suffering from depression, probe them a little deeper to help them open up. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the more effectively depression can be treated.


8 characteristics of life in a wheelchair

Since losing my legs just over a year ago, one of the most common questions I get asked is “How are you coping?” I have learnt that life as a full-time wheelchair-user with disabilities has its benefits as well as its frustrations. In that way, it is no different from life as an able-bodied person. Here are a few of the pros and cons I experience most often, which I think are common to many other people with disabilities.

1) Most people are super nice to me

Even strangers go out of their way to offer me assistance, whether it’s a push up a hill, mounting a curb or alighting from a bus. It also seems to give me some kind of implicit authority – whenever I have been in a group of people that don’t really know me, they immediately fall silent when I start speaking and don’t interrupt me until I have finished.

2) But some people can be offensive

There are other people though, that seem to think I am also mentally handicapped, simply because I am in a wheelchair and have a physical disability. The first time my mum took me to the mall we went into a sports shop to look for wheelchair gloves for me. As soon as we started approaching the salesgirl she looked nervously at me and backed up slightly, and only looked at my mum while she was talking to us. As Emily Ladau’s post on The Mighty reveals, I know I am not the only disabled person to have this issue.

3) Going anywhere requires strategic planning

Inaccessible MyCiti bus stop in Cape Town

An accessible MyCiti bus stop – preceded by two inaccessible curbs.

Before leaving the house I must find out whether the place I am going to is accessible.

Will there be disabled toilet facilities?

Are the doorways wide enough for my wheelchair?

Is the outdoor terrain manageable for my wheels?

Are there accessible transport links or can I arrange a lift with someone?

Is it likely we’ll go on from there to a different venue (in which case repeat all checks)?

Living spontaneously just got a lot more risky.

4) Using the toilet requires much patience

First of all, 90% of the times I have used public disabled toilet facilities I have had to wait for an able-bodied person to finish up in the cubicle. Out of about fourteen able-bodied people I’ve waited for, so far only one has apologised for using the disabled toilet stall. The funny thing is, most of them look extremely surprised to come out and find an actual disabled person waiting for them. Yes, we really do exist. We are not unicorns or tooth fairies or elves. We are living, breathing people with disabilities who need to pee.

Secondly, when you literally don’t have a leg to stand on, pulling up your pants requires impressive skill.

5) The same goes for disabled parking bays

There is a reason disabled parking bays are wider than the average and closer to the entrance. Try assembling and dismantling a wheelchair next to your car and wheeling yourself across a parking lot where people drive above the speed limit and cannot see your wheelchair in their mirrors or over their bonnets.

6) People find it difficult to be angry with me

Maybe it’s just my winning personality, but there have been times where I have done or said something that would have made me angry if I had been the other person involved and yet they haven’t shown any annoyance or anger towards me. I hope that they are not too scared to criticise someone in a wheelchair.

7) Some months I spend more time with my doctors than my friends

Groote Schuur Hospital | darylhb on Instagram

Groote Schuur Hospital

I am sure this will change as more time goes by, but in my first year as a person with disabilities, I have been to the hospital at least twice a month. Usually it has been for routine check-ups or therapy, but there has also been one surgery (with all the pre- and post-care treatment that goes with it). As my body now has to function slightly differently, my vitals will always need to be monitored and physiotherapy, occupational therapy and medication may often be necessary. I have enjoyed learning about my body and my mind, and I am impressed by the physiological backup systems that the human body uses to compensate for what is missing.

8) I know the staff at the local hospital by name

Most of the doctors, nurses and administrative staff that I’ve met have been remarkably kind, friendly, efficient and supportive. There are of course other staff that should not be in the healthcare profession at all, as they seem to hate their jobs and resent their patients for any requests that might be made. The attitude of nursing staff has a profound effect on the wellbeing of their patients, many of whom are bedridden or dependent on the staff. A good nurse can make a patient feel safe, hopeful and confident that their condition is manageable.

6 songs that helped me through a winter without legs

In every culture, music has the power to connect people in spite of their differences. Music encourages the spirit, stimulates the imagination and inspires emotions of all sorts. My life has been enriched by music and I could not imagine living without it. Over the past few months I have been accompanied by music through the rain and cold to making a new life with wheels, instead of legs. These are a few of the songs that gave me strength and joy and motivation.

1) Anything Could Happen by Ellie Goulding

This has to be one of the most hope-inspiring songs I have ever heard. When the chorus bursts out, like sunshine through the clouds, you really can believe that the future is bright with endless possibilities.

Favourite lyrics:

After the war we said we’d fight together
I guess we thought that’s just what humans do
Letting darkness grow
As if we need its palette and we need its colour
But now I’ve seen it through
And now I know the truth:
That anything could happen…

Music for a winter without legs

Album: Halcyon Days (Deluxe edition)

Other good songs: My Blood (after my suicide attempt went so gruesomely wrong, I can relate quite grotesquely to the line “blood on the rocks”), the earworm Only You, the buoyant JOY, Dead In The Water (especially the opening lines), Lights, You My Everything, Hearts Without Chains, and lastly the cover of Alt-J’s Tessellate (featuring a jazzy saxophone solo quite different to Ellie’s other music).

2) Se A Vida É (That’s The Way Life Is) – Pet Shop Boys

This is such a feelgood song; a celebration of life with the sound of a Caribbean carnival.

Favourite lyrics:

Although we see the world through different eyes
We share the same idea of paradise
So don’t search in the stars for signs of love
Look around your life you’ll find enough

Album: Bilingual

Other good songs: The whole Bilingual album has a Latin American flavour, with exotic rhythms and instruments carrying PSB’s trademark wistful, satirical and political lyrics in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Before and A Red Letter Day are excellent songs, and Metamorphosis features a rare rap. I also recommend all PSB’s other albums, but especially Release, Very, Introspective and Actually.

3) Heart and Soul by Joy Division

On the eve of Joy Division’s first US tour, their singer and lyricist Ian Curtis committed suicide. His lyrics are some of the most articulate and poetic expressions of the overwhelming powerlessness, despair and loneliness that comes with depression. You might think it would be depressing to listen to songs like this, but in fact it is encouraging to hear someone put words to my feelings and to know that I am not alone in these feelings.

Favourite lyrics:

Existence well what does it matter?
I exist on the best terms I can.
The past is now part of my future,
The present is well out of hand.

Album: The Best of Joy Division

Other good songs: Isolation, Disorder, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Twenty Four Hours.

4) Go the Distance by Roger Bart

"Go The Distance" from Disney's Hercules

No song list would be complete without a number from a musical, and this winter I have been drawing inspiration from Disney musicals. One song in particular struck a chord with me: Go The Distance from Disney’s Hercules (this is the film cast version of the song of course, not the yucky Michael Bolton single version). This song beautifully articulates my desire to fit in and find my own sense of purpose.

Favourite lyrics:

I will find my way, I can go the distance
I’ll be there someday – If I can be strong
I know every mile will be worth my while
I would go most anywhere to feel like I belong.

Album: The Magic of Disney

Disney's Hercules - Go The Distance

Other good songs: There are so many, but these are my favourites – Circle Of Life (from The Lion King), Someday (from The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Best Of Friends (from The Fox and the Hound), I Won’t Say (I’m In Love) (also from Hercules), If I Didn’t Have You (from Monsters, Inc.)

5) Part Of Me by Katy Perry

Katy Perry has written so many empowering songs of self-acceptance, but the defiant Part Of Me strikes a particular chord with me. Perhaps it is because with the loss of my legs I felt that not only a physical, but also a psychological part of me had been taken away, i.e. the part of me that did all those things requiring legs – dancing, exploring, skipping and Pilates. There is so much of me left over, though, and I am rediscovering the impulses that motivated all those actions and learning new ways of expressing them.

Favourite lyrics:

Throw your sticks and stones,
Throw your bombs and your blows,
But you’re not gonna break my soul.
This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me.

Album: Teenage Dream – The Complete Confection

Other good songs: The whole record-setting Teenage Dream album is fantastic, but particularly the singles, as well as Hummingbird Heartbeat and Peacock. I also highly recommend her new album, Prism. I find KP’s music grows with her, so although the themes she deals with on all of her albums are much the same, each album has a more mature and sophisticated delivery.

6) Hero by Mariah Carey

Okay, I know this is super corny, with an extra side of cheese, but this song helped me achieve one of the most important revelations of my life: Over the past year I have realised that I need to be my own hero. Friends and family are vital, but if I am to survive those moments when I have to make a decision or face a challenge alone, I must be able to fight for myself. A similar song is Proud by M People, which is a great motto to live by and always reminds me of Sarah Hadland from Miranda holding Heather Small’s head on a stick (…lulz for days!). To me it is not about being a holier-than-thou do-gooder, but about nurturing a sense of self-worth and accountability. You have to live with yourself every day, so are you proud of the person you are?

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Favourite lyrics:

When you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

Album: This is a song I bought online, but it was first released on Mariah’s 1993 album, Music Box, and can also be found on all her compilation albums.

Other good songs: Mariah Carey gets a lot of flak, but I am impressed by her songwriting skills. She has written some of the most perfect pop songs ever, including All I Want For Christmas, Fantasy, Emotions and Dreamlover.

Now it’s your turn

Which songs have you had on repeat over the past few months? Let me know in the comments.