USIU-Africa holds Men's Mental Health Awareness Breakfast

By John Sande

Men's Mental Health Month, observed every June, is devoted to raising awareness about the mental health issues afflicting men, and empowering them to speak openly and seek help. In general, men's mental prosperity is often ignored by society and is a topic shrouded in stigma, thereby compounding free emotional expression. As a result, men resort to handling (mental) challenges in their own way. Tragically, this has led to extreme outcomes including hazardous behaviours, substance abuse and addiction, and sometimes suicide.

It is for this reason that the Strategic Marketing and Communication Division organized for a Men's Mental Health Breakfast to raise awareness of the prevalence of mental health issues among men, to encourage open discourse within a safe space, and to provide a platform to educate, as well as share available support resources within the university.

Key Speakers

In his keynote address to the men, Dr. Michael Kihara, Associate Professor of Psychology highlighted the importance of mental health awareness and the unique challenges faced by men. He emphasized the need to break the silence and the cultural expectations that often prevent men from seeking help. Sharing on some grim statistics from the US, it was revealed that children from single-parent families account for 72% of teenage murderers and 60% of rapists. Another report highlighted that from an analysis of 75 juvenile delinquents, 66% experienced fatherlessness, 20% had never lived with their father, and 25% had an alcoholic father."

Acknowledging stigma, lack of awareness, limited accessibility options and cultural norms as some of the barriers that hinder men from seeking help, Dr. Kihara, encouraged the men in the audience to take the critical step towards managing and overcoming mental health challenges. He deconstructed the myth of many men feeling pressured to appear strong and self-reliant, which can lead to the suppression of emotions and ultimately reluctance to seek help, while internally seething and simmering.

Picking up on Dr. Kihara's remarks, Mr. Patrick Obel, the Head of Counselling Services challenged the men to break the barriers, overcome stigma and seek therapy, counselling and support groups as necessary pathways needed to cope with emotions and improve their mental well-being.

"I am not here to provide any answers as I do not have any. I am here to guide and make us feel comfortable expressing our vulnerabilities, and together we find and chart the way forward," he said as he ushered in the Q&A session.

Q&A Session

The session turned out to be the most powerful moment of the breakfast as Mr. Obel invited the men to not only ask questions, but also share their stories, struggles, and triumphs. One by one, the attendees took the mic and shared their personal experiences, and also received feedback from the group. The session underscored the importance of collective effort to break down the stigma surrounding men's mental health as more and more individuals opened up.

The event concluded with closing remarks from Mr. John Sande, who reiterated the importance of ongoing dialogue and support. He encouraged the attendees to continue the conversation beyond the breakfast event, reach out to fellow men who might be struggling, and foster an environment where seeking help (from each other, or the professionals) is seen as a strength rather than a weakness.

By converging the men together to share their experiences and learn from each other, the event created a strong foundation for continued support, awareness and conversation. And as the attendees left the venue, there was a palpable sense of solidarity and resolve to break the silence surrounding men's mental health. The Men's Mental Health Breakfast was not just a meal; it was a critical step towards fostering a more supportive and understanding community for all men.

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