Masculinity and Suicide in Jamaica

masculinity and suicide in jamaica

The land of wood and water is known for its easy going atmosphere. Its ‘no problem’ mantra that is so heavily associated with the island reflects the laid back attitude of the people. However, there has been some concern starting from the beginning of the year as suicide cases on the island are happening more often than in years past, and the majority of these occurrences involve men. This rise in suicide incidents is a cause for concern, as it poses the question of what is happening with the men in Jamaica that is causing some of them to feel the need to take their life.

Jamaican citizens experienced a drastic change in their everyday life during the 1970’s as the island took a turn for the worse caused by economic decline and a failing economy. Lack of jobs did not give men the opportunity to be the bread winners that they once were causing them to have to invent a new identity of manhood in order to keep their position as ‘The man’ in their society. The 70s ushered in the culture of Jamaican gangsterism giving rise to the ‘badman’ culture that is still present on the island today. The ‘badman’ is the ultimate form of Jamaican masculinity as he is strong and tough and does not show any sign of emotion or weakness, as doing so causes him to be labeled as soft. The lack of expression of emotions puts many men in this culture under immense pressure to keep a cool head no matter the situation, which can leave many men frustrated and feeling helpless because the culture that they adhere to tells them that expressing ones feeling is weak. This mix of emotions leads many men to choose to end their life because they are battling with the expectations placed on them by their society and their desire to want to share their feelings without being judged for it.

Donavan Thomas who is a counsellor and the founder of the organization Choose life International believes that Jamaican men’s lack of discussing their problems is a key contributor to the high levels of suicide amongst them. It is not in the construct of Jamaican masculinity to display any form of emotional vulnerability as doing so would make them appear weak causing them to be seen as less than a man. So rather than talking about the things that are affecting them they just tough it out and live their lives as if nothing is bothering them.

Statistics from the Jamaica Constabulary Force indicated that 238 people committed suicide between January 2015 and March 3, 2019. Of this number, 212, or approximately 89 per cent, were males. The reason for such low suicide numbers in women is they are known to always express how they feel, no matter what the emotion. Women are less prone to internalizing what they are feeling. This expression is merely a normal part of their feminine nature which makes them less likely to commit acts such as suicide as they are able to share feelings before letting it consume them. Perhaps if the brothers in Jamaica would utilize outlets such as the Choose Life organization they could discuss what they are going through with other like-minded men, which would remove the stigma that men do not express how they are feeling because taking part in open dialogue would show that there are other men going through similar situations. Having a community of men to discuss certain issues with would dissolve the feeling of alienation that many man feel when dealing with deep personal issues; where they can be discouraged to commit acts such as suicide.

Masculinity in this culture is also often associated with aggression where violence is often encouraged because the tougher you are or the tougher you are perceived to be will help to solidify ones position as a man. But it is these burst of aggression that often mask some real issues that these men are dealing with, all for the sake of being respected by their peers. They will put on this pseudo-machismo to disguise whatever negative feeling they are experiencing; not only hurting others but themselves in the process.

It is only in hope that the men of Jamaica who are dealing with personal issues come and get help and speak with someone so that they can lift any emotional burdens off of their shoulders. Continuing to put on a front and keep feelings bottled in will only contribute to the increasing levels of violence and suicide rates on the island as more men will be encouraged to commit acts of aggression because they chose not to acknowledge the support systems that will help them.

Featured image | The myth of self reliance | Christopher Dombres | flickr

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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