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Stay Shining – Remembering Riky Rick

On this day two years ago, South Africa’s creative landscape was dealt a heavy blow with the untimely passing of Riky Rick, a dynamic force in the nation’s music and cultural scene. Popularly known as “Boss Zonke,” he was celebrated not just for his musical prowess, but also for his role as a cultural innovator and a pathfinder for the next generation. However, behind the glitz and glamour of his successful career lurked the shadow of depression, ultimately leading to a tragic end.

Riky Rick’s story serves as a poignant reminder that success and outward accomplishments do not shield individuals from the internal battles they may be facing. Despite enjoying the pinnacle of his career, organising a thriving music festival in its third year, and securing lucrative endorsement deals, he succumbed to his silent torment. We don’t speak about mental health and suicide enough, especially as it relates to men. We need to do more to break the stigma and silence.

Mental health and suicide, especially among men, remain topics shrouded in silence. Society often perpetuates the harmful stereotype that men should be stoic, tough, and impervious to emotional struggles. Yet anyone, regardless of success or societal expectations, can grapple with mental health issues. Riky Rick’s story challenges the misconceptions surrounding mental health, urging us to foster an environment where vulnerability is embraced.

I’ve always felt that it is important for men to create THEIR own spaces where THEY can center themselves and have open and honest, positive conversations about manhood and masculinity. As an advocate for women, it is essential to recognise that men face unique challenges relating to mental health. When I delivered a talk about “breaking the bias” a few years ago I referenced what bell hooks calls “the soul-destroying mask of patriarchal masculinity.” She breaks it down: “He learns that his core feelings cannot be expressed if they do not conform to the acceptable behaviors sexism defines as male. Asked to give up the true self in order to realise the patriarchal ideal, boys learn self-betrayal early and are rewarded for these acts of soul murder.”

As a society we need to come to terms with the fact that sadly, sometimes the “reward” is death. While we are making strides in destigmatising mental health conversations, there is still much work to be done to redefine how we perceive masculinity. Men need safe spaces to express vulnerability, and we must normalise open dialogue; these are necessary steps to address the often-overlooked struggles that men face silently. Education is paramount for this. Understanding the signs of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues empowers us to support our loved ones effectively.

Behavioral changes, such as withdrawal from social activities, sudden mood swings, or persistent feelings of sadness, can indicate underlying issues. Physical symptoms like changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and unexplained aches and pains may also be red flags. Cognitive signs include difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, or heightened irritability. Additionally, expressions of hopelessness, frequent thoughts of death or suicide, and a decline in personal hygiene can signal a need for immediate attention. Being attuned to these signs and approaching individuals with empathy can make a significant difference in providing timely support for their mental well-being.

“We must create safe spaces for men to express vulnerability, and encourage open dialogue are crucial steps in addressing the often-overlooked struggles that men face silently.”

Tragic stories like this should compel us to build a supportive society. We must prioritise the creation of safe spaces where individuals feel comfortable sharing their struggles. Initiatives that promote mental health awareness and encourage open conversations can be instrumental in breaking down the barriers that prevent men from seeking help.

Riky Rick’s story emphasises the importance of supporting one another in times of need. Friends, family, and colleagues can play a vital role in providing emotional support and understanding. By fostering an environment of compassion and empathy, we contribute to a society where mental health is prioritised, and no one feels alone in their battle.

As we reflect on the tragic story of Riky Rick, let us commit to dismantling the stigma surrounding men’s mental health. If you are struggling, please seek therapy. It is time to talk and it will help. I promise. By initiating open conversations, educating ourselves, creating safe spaces, and offering unwavering support, we can strive towards a society where individuals are free to share their struggles without fear of judgment. In memory of Riky Rick, I sincerely hope that his story will inspire change and encourage us to be advocates for mental health awareness.

Rest in peace, Boss Zonke.

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