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Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Education, acceptance, and engagement – AfroCentric Executive Manager for Research and Product Development Dr Mike Marshall provides three crucial steps to help destigmatise men's mental health issues

It comes as no shock that mental health issues are escalating as South Africans deal with an ongoing pandemic, record-high levels of unemployment, and continuous economic stagnation.

According to Dr Mike Marshall, Executive Manager: Research and Product Development at the AfroCentric Group, South Africans are some of the most stressed people in the world and mental health is unfortunately deprioritised by too many, especially men.

"Our claims data shows that mental health issues are on the rise, but this is mostly reflected by increased claims for depression by women. Considering the stats show that a lot more men end up taking their own lives, we have to assume that men are suffering too, but just don't want to admit it," says Dr Marshall.

According to the World Health Organisation's latest Global Health Estimates Suicide worldwide in 2019, 13 774 suicides were reported in South Africa. Of these deaths, 10 861 were men while 2 913 were women.

"This tragic statistic paints an unfortunate truth on the face of our nation – men are struggling but would rather take their own lives than admit that they need help," says Dr Marshall. "We have to start confronting male mental health before more men end up taking their own lives."

Dr Marshall says three steps need to be taken if we are to address this mental health challenge.

Educate yourself

Medscheme has launched a mental health resource hub –  an online source of information surrounding mental health issues. To tackle the issue of screening, an online screening tool was embedded within this resource hub.  This screening tool gives the general public a quick window into their mental health and helps them understand at which point they should seek professional help.

"By educating our members and providing them with a quick and efficient tool that's a basic assessment of their mental health status, we can get them on the right path to treatment before they are hospitalised and out of pocket. This is also for those men who require support but still want to keep it discreet," says Dr Marshall.

He says understanding how to classify the issue, or at least knowing that there are others out there who struggle with the same issues, will lead a person to the next step in the healing journey – acceptance.

Acceptance is the first step to treatment

Dr Marshall says South Africans need to start acknowledging the hidden crisis that is mental health issues. "What can we do to help our men open up and realise that mental health needs to be treated like any other ailment. Is it pride? Is it ego? Or is it a matter of cost? Whatever the answer, it is up to us to figure it out and do so sooner rather than later."

Dr Marshall says one of the primary ways in which we must tackle mental health is by focusing on the issue of acceptance. "When it comes to this country's various health burdens, it has become a trend for stigma to overshadow action in many parts of the country, especially with our men. Mental health is not a sign of weakness, yet so many South Africans are ashamed to speak up and seek help."

Engage with our communities

"If we can engage with our men and our communities about the prevalence and dangers of mental health issues, then we can finally identify and treat the millions who are suffering in silence, fearing that their fragility is a failure and should be hidden," says Dr Marshall. "The suicide rates tell us that millions of these silent sufferers are men, so it is time they see the light. But they are going to need someone to show them," he adds.

The AfroCentric Group offers several platforms to support the mental wellness of not only its scheme members, but also the general public. For its members, it has partnered with the Panda app, which provides access to support and resources to get people the right care at the right time. The AfroCentric Group offers the app through its own lifestyle wellness app, AMP, which is designed to help members make better lifestyle choices, ultimately reducing the need for costly healthcare interventions.

For the general public, it has launched the Medscheme Mental Wellness Learning Solutions, a resource hub that provides credible mental health information to guide those in need of assistance to the necessary support channels should they need speak to someone.

These, says Dr Marshall, are just two interventions available to those in need of help. "I urge men, in particular, to not suffer in silence. Find someone you that you can talk to, or engage with our platforms to get on the road to mental wellness," he concludes.

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