“Men don’t cry”, is a common statement heard in Africa. And it is often heard when a man must step up and well, Man up! Even during the toughest of times and greatest of struggles.
According to 2019 data from the World Health Organization (WHO), one in every eight people in the world has mental health issues.
In Tanzania, one out of every 20,000 people have committed suicide out of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, anger and drug abuse in the last five years.
A healthy body, a healthy mind! That’s an axiom we could all live by! It is important that every part of our body is healthy and functioning, but like our bodies, our minds can also get sick.
Michael Baruti is the founder, producer and presenter of Men. Men. Men. It is a platform and podcast from Tanzania that discusses Men’s mental health.
A former radio host, Michael found podcasts to be the place to have his work because of the topic's longevity, cost and flexibility. But how did he wake up one day and decide this was his path going forward in life?
Life’s pressures with work, financial debts, marriage and school failures contributed to it all.
In his national Advanced Level school examinations, Baruti performed poorly, which did not sit well with his father, who was quite tough on him, so much so that Michael cried in the face of confrontation from him.
“Men Don’t Cry.” These were the words uttered by his father. The disappointment piled on the pressure and was exacerbated by the fact that he wanted to be the cool guy in school, which didn't make things any better, as he was also failing at that.
“My son, I will not always be here to guide you. In life, you make choices, and you need to be able to live with your choices. So you can choose to do better or continue to fail. Michael, I have never been more disappointed; I expected so much more from you.”
Baruti reiterates his fathers' words from his youth that got him teary-eyed. This was around the time his father told him those harsh word.
Years later, his father developed a heart condition. His mother left her job to take care of him. He recalls how his father went to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania during one of his regular doctor visits and asked if he could spend a night at his house.
“I was worried sick about where he would sleep and what he would eat. I was so insecure and worried he would see me as a failure!
But everything turned out fine, and I soon learned that he was happy just to see where I lived. From then on, I felt a sense of accomplishment.”
Life’s pressure kept piling on
In 2011, Baruti’s father passed, and for a long time, he felt uncomfortable talking about all the expectations that triggered his feelings of depression.
Three years later, he opted to marry and start a family. With financial debts piling up, a baby on the way and a career in limbo, the bubble was about to burst.
He sought someone to talk to one evening after a hectic day of work.
Unpacking all he had inside and finding out he was a “people pleaser” with “no boundaries” it was only a matter of time before he found solace in the therapy.
But that changed, and he started talking openly about the mental health challenges he faced and how he managed to heal himself by opening up, talking and sharing his experiences.
“I talked and talked, I cried and felt such a release. For a long time, I had been keeping everything to myself, operating on autopilot. I had not talked or shared my struggles with anyone. In fact, I was hiding from everyone; I felt I would explode. I felt so much better after talking to the therapist.”
Ever since doing this, Baruti has been learning more and more about ‘mental health’ and the importance of talking to somebody. He reiterates the value by saying you open your heart and mind to a professional if things bother you.
Men.Men.Men the podcast
It all started with a tweet.
“Talking about my problems saved my life! I could deal with my life again and started talking more openly and honestly with my loved ones.”
Baruti created this space where men like him with similar experiences can talk about them and air their feelings. A place where they can be open and admit to themselves and others that it’s not easy being a man.
''We have so many expectations to perform and provide placed on us. It is all about our traditions and social roles. Such things really need to be discussed, and they also have to change as the times change.''
African Podfest, a company for elevating and inspiring African podcasters, has research that shows that podcasting is the fastest-growing medium for consuming content on the African continent, with the fastest growth coming from Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.
Today the show boasts a plethora of guests, from people with special needs, to media and sports personalities and even a former Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism.
With topics ranging from depression, productivity, risky behaviour, responsibility, strength to self-confidence, parenting and social roles.
“We invite men to be guest speakers and talk about men’s issues and their problems. During the recording,” Baruti explains to TRT Afrika, the program also has a psychologist on air who answers questions and various concerns.
Baruti also organises meet-ups and workshops to further dig deep into the content and has ‘talk groups’ in Dar es Salaam with other men every four months.
The groups and workshops are intentionally made to allow men, like Baruti, to sit and discuss issues that are more relatable to them and can allow for open discussion and help shape the discussions on the program moving forward.
“Personally, I have learnt so much about myself from the podcast; it is so rewarding to understand that you are not alone; so many other men are going through the same kind of experience. We need each other, and ultimately, we can support each other. I’ve made it my mission to encourage men’s open talk!”
The podcast is fortnightly on the most popular audio streaming sites in the country.