Depression laid bare
This deadly mental illness is no sign of weakness
The death of South African hiphop star HHP has sparked a conversation around depression and the stigma often attached to the illness.
While circumstances surrounding the star’s death are still unclear, public knowledge of his previous suicide attempts and his opening up about battling the mental illness have fuelled the discussion.
As discussions about mental illness have become less taboo, Bay clinical psychologist Gillian Smale said this did not necessarily mean a rise in the illness itself but could also result from more sufferers being able to open up about it.
“There was always depression in the olden days but it wasn’t as recognised [as it is now].
“It’s more easily diagnosed now because people are speaking out and they are more [informed] to recognise it in themselves and seek the necessary help.
“I think it is still stigmatised; some people see it as a sign of weakness and won’t admit to being depressed but [depression] is no different from having any other chemical imbalance in the body.
“Someone with diabetes is not seen as a weakling because of their deficiency of insulin and that’s what depression is – a deficiency of serotonin,” she said.
Serotonin is a chemical produced by nerve cells that functions as a natural mood stabiliser.
The perception that depression is a sign of weakness is among the most popular misconceptions about the illness which has resulted in sufferers not speaking out.
Amid the social media discussions following the news of HHP’s death, Nelson Mandela University student Lesego Melesi shared her own experience with depression on a Facebook post.
“I was diagnosed with depression in 2011 and whenever I'd share how I feel with my friends, they thought I always wanted to be the centre of attention.
“I stopped speaking to people about how I feel, no-one in my family knew that I was taking antidepressants because how do I explain depression to them?” part of the post read.
“The reality is that most of us at some stage in our lives will experience a period of depression, whether it’s because of particular trauma or work pressure, so anyone is susceptible to depression under certain conditions,” Smale said.
She said depression could be categorised into two types: endogenous, which results from a dire chemical imbalance and can be genetic and severe, and reactive depression, which is a reaction to particularly stressful circumstances such as trauma and bereavement.
HHP’s death follows several mental illness-related deaths that hit the Eastern Cape and South Africa this year.
In July, Mthatha-born University of Cape Town Professor Bongani Mayosi committed suicide following a battle with depression and, a week later, 23 year-old Rhodes University student activist Khensani Maseko took her own life about three months after she was allegedly raped by her then boyfriend, who was never convicted.
Before her death, Maseko posted her last Instagram post. She wrote: “24.07.1994 [her birthday] 03.0802018 [her death day]” with the caption “NO ONE DESERVES TO BE RAPED!”
At present students at Wits University are demanding an intervention by the institution to tackle depression after one student committed suicide and another was rushed to hospital following a suicide attempt within 24 hours.
Often, when one commits suicide, loved ones blame themselves for negligence but Smale said the best they could do was show support and encourage victims to seek help.
“You can be supportive and show that you understand what your loved one is going through and encourage them to go to therapy, but the thing with psychiatric problems is that one can only benefit if one is willing to take the initiative to seek help. It can’t be done for them,” she said.
Contrary to popular belief, one need not wait to be depressed to seek psychiatric therapy.
“Anyone can benefit from therapy. It’s like personal training to develop your emotion muscles, which in turn helps to cope with and even prevent depression,” she said.