I remember an aunt of mine telling me, when I told her about my depression and anxiety, that I had white people’s problems. I remember her asking, “What exactly is that? She further exclaimed, “Nifunde kakhulu yaz.” This means, the fact that I’m educated has something to do with me experiencing a mental illness. Because of her reaction, I thought I was crazy; that I could overcome it and keep quiet. But the more I kept it to myself, the more it grew and overpowered me. I wanted to end my life so many times. The thought of death seemed like a peaceful state where I would just forget everything and everyone. Everything would just stop, I would not have my constant worries and my pain would just vanish.
Then there was always that little voice that said, “Don’t do it!” I would think about the fact that my life was not just mine and how many people would be affected by my choice. I wanted to do away with this voice. It had no right to interfere with my plans and my decisions. But a part of me would agree and say let’s just stay in bed see what happens tomorrow. Then tomorrow would come with no difference and so would the next day. The pattern became so overwhelming that I ended up hurting myself just so I could feel something. The pain was better than the numbness and emptiness. I would get a high from cutting myself. At least then, at that exact moment, I could focus on the pain and the adrenaline rush.
Mental health is not as recognised as real like other health issues by many people. To some people, it is a joke. This is my own opinion, of course, from my personal experiences and observations. But it is very real indeed. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), severe mental illness can lead to suicide. The WHO estimates that 800 000 people die from to suicide every year. This means that every 40 seconds someone takes their own life. It is predicted that in 2020 this will increase to one every 20 seconds. This could be prevented if people are educated about mental health and they take measures towards self-healing or are provided with the appropriate help and support before it reaches this stage.
It is really amazing how mental health is taken so lightly yet it is a problem that many people experience. According to the WHO, more than 300 million people suffer from depression around the world and more than 260 million people are living with anxiety disorders. The most common mental illnesses are clinical depression, anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder.
A recent South African Depression and Anxiety Group-led survey found that only 61% of people disclosed their mental illness to their managers. This is what I did after I saw that my work was being affected. I reached a point where I was so tired physically, emotionally and spiritually that I had to do something. That was when I decided to talk to my former boss, so I told her everything about my experiences. I felt like a huge load had been lifted off my shoulders after I opened up to her. She got me further help and I ended up seeing a psychologist for three sessions, which was very therapeutic for me. I started talking to my close friends again and my mother and the support I got was wonderful. I did not anticipate the amount of understanding and love that came my way. It took me time to write about my story but finally I can own up to it and embrace it. Yes, I suffer from mental health issues but I feel no shame in it.
I am getting better every day and I want to help people who are going through the same thing. Talking about it helps. Some days there are relapses and the world seems like a terrible place to be in but other days are wonderful, filled with small achievements. One of the most important things in your recovery will be who you surround yourself with. Make it a point to try to go out and be around people who love and support you. Stay away from toxic people who will laugh it off when you tell them about how you are feeling.
I am not healed and I am not sure if I ever will be. What I do know is that you need to say no to the voice of death. Even at your lowest point realise that though it may seem like it, suicide is not the option. Have someone that you can call because you cannot do this on your own. The first step is waking up in the morning and taking each day as it comes.
Tell us: How would you respond to someone who was dealing with mental health issues?