By Vangile Ganthso (@Vangi22)
Depression is seen as a ‘white disease’, but we are losing more and more young black children and adults to depression every day, because this is an actual disease. Vangile opens up about her own experience with her depression and the overwhelming response she received when she spoke of her battle in a tribute to a young poet who had taken his life.
There are many studies on the alarming suicide rates among young South Africans, particularly high school learners. Of equal concern, but less talked about, are the number of young black professionals who suffer from depression, anxiety and/or stress-related panic attacks. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group 20 % of South Africans experience depression at some point in their lives. In a survey, it was found that nearly 40% of the women sampled had experienced depression and this had affected their performance in the work place. Studies go on to show that although females are more likely to attempt suicide, males are more likely to succeed because women tend to use less violent methods.
We live in a fast-paced, high-stress period. Young professionals are working in very demanding environments, trying to climb the social ladder; and many young women are juggling this alongside raising children or taking care of families. Although times have changed, we also still live in a society where mothers are the primary care-givers and men play a more financial role in raising their children. (This of course, is changing rapidly as more and more dads want to be hands on parents who are actively involved in the day-to-day well-being of their children.) Coupled with this, we have become increasingly estranged as communities. Families talk less and less. Physical communication has in large effect been replaced by technology, so people would rather be on Facebook and Twitter rather than have a conversation with the people in front of them. Going out with friends has become more about taking selfies and instagramming the fun that the space one is in, rather than actually enjoying it. We hardly allow ourselves the time or mental space to savour moments, we no longer allow ourselves to live fully in them. Our lives have become fertile breeding grounds for loneliness.
I have fought depression for over a decade now. From high school, right through my twenties, I have been on and off medication, visited countless therapists and been in and out of hospitals for most of my adult life. My family, friends and partners have picked up pieces of me and carried me out of the darkest moments in my life, often with less complaint than they were entitled to, but always leaving me feeling more burdensome than before. And although I have been incredibly blessed to have people who care rally behind me, it still feels like a lonely swallowing. A gaping hole that will never heal or be filled.
Last year I opened up about some of my experiences on a Poetry in the Air episode with Myesha Jenkins because I wanted to pay tribute to a young poet who had taken his life a short time prior. Following this conversation, I received an unbelievable number of calls and messages of friends and strangers who had also been (are also still) fighting this silent killer. Young men and women, who seem to have it together but did not have the vocabulary to articulate what they were going through.
We are taught, especially as black children, that depression is nothing more than a need to pray or visit a sangoma. We are taught that suicidal people are selfish and/or weak, sometimes spoilt. Depression is seen as a ‘white disease’, but we are losing more and more young black children and adults to depression every day, because this is an actual disease. Mental illness and emotional disorders require real treatment. This may come in the form of traditional healing, or therapy, or institutionalisation, but no one can fight depression alone.
Turning thirty was a huge milestone for me. I had spent so much time believing I wouldn’t make it out of my twenties (and that I didn’t want to), it never occurred to me that all those day-by-days and breath-by-breaths had accumulated into years of still alive. I am still fighting my own storm, and I will be the first to tell you that I am no expert on the matter, but I do want to share a few things I have that have helped me. Firstly, I am not alone. It may feel like it but there is an entire world filled with people who are going through something similar. There is also an entire world of people who are dedicating their lives to making sure I live! So I got help. There is no shame in reaching out. Thirdly, I learned that I need to be active. It sounds simple enough but just a walk, or getting out of bed can do wonders for producing endorphins. And finally, one day at a time seems too long sometimes, so one moment at a time is my best bet.
So my darling… Just breath. That’s the first step. As difficult as this living thing is, you can do it. You deserve to live!
Most common signs of depression are tiredness, sadness, excessive crying, low self-esteem, guilt, anxiety, loss of interest in life, loss of libido, changes in sleeping patterns and exercise, and suicidal thoughts. If you suspect you may be suffering from depression, please contact SADAG on 011 234 4837.