Mental health crusaders spreading awareness

Ndaba shares on how she is overcoming depression

Mental illness is something many black people still think doesn’t affect them. But the reality is frightening, with the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) reporting that since January this year, 46 500 of their 179 000 calls were suicide calls.

With matriculants writing exams, the festive season approaching, the year ending with dreams and plans shattered, and many still unemployed, Sadag expects this figure to rise.

They dedicated the month of October to raising awareness around mental health in line with the Global Mental Health Awareness Day on October 9.

Depression comes in many forms and goes hand in hand with other metal illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which affect many teenagers and those in the working environment.

Symptoms of schizophrenia are said to appear between the ages of 16 and 30.

According to Janssen Pharmaceuticals’s help page, Schizophrenia 24X7, schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder which results in hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior.

Symptoms include believing that people are reading your mind, controlling your thoughts or planning to harm you. Thoughts like these lead to anxiety and even suicide.

Misconceptions are that people living with schizophrenia are erratic and violent.

The pharmaceutical company says these misconceptions lead to victims being shunned by society and their chance of finding employment is often reduced.

Many end up on the street. But they say with proper treatment and support, sufferers are able to live a complete and balanced life. Thanks to research and development, advanced treatment, which is a long-acting injectable administered by a professional once a month, is recommended as opposed to taking pills every day.

Actress Sophie Ndaba has spoken about her own battles with depression.

First, she was diagnosed with diabetes – and her rapid weight loss led to online bullying and rumours that she had died.

She says this had happened more than once.

“I remember walking out of the hospital the time they diagnosed me I went straight to a restaurant and there was nothing I could eat. Everything had too much sugar or too many carbohydrates. I had to stop eating all my staple foods, all my favourites. It’s not just sugar, but things that have sugar content or turn into sugar. So it changed my life in a big way.
“My body also reacted to the pills; I had side-effects, waking up at night, spending time in the bathroom,” she said.

She admits that it affected her not only physically but mentally.

“I think depressed people often don’t realise they are depressed. Everything I have gone through has put me into a corner at some periods of my life and I only realise it now that I’m stable.

“Depression affects your relationships with your kids, your partner, your work. You don’t do the same things you used to. You’re like a zombie. I know because I’ve experienced it. It took me months to know it, to see it, and to fight it, and to now say I am here and can help someone else.
“I’ve snapped out of it and now I can be a champion and talk to other women about it and tell them that these are the mechanisms you can use to fight it. I overcame it with prayer and with support systems fighting with me. My fight and my success I celebrate every day,” she

She advises that people who can talk about her death in public should consider talking about depression, Actress Sophie Ndaba has spoken about her own battles with anxiety and mental illness.

“I’m a Christian girl so I feel like any trials and tribulations are there to make me stronger. I do sometimes ask why me? Why do I have to go through stuff?  I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been through where the pressure is getting too much and you have to rehabilitate yourself and you have to fight. For me it’s a constant fight, for myself, for my family, for my business.”

She has prioritised her life and responsibilities to cope.

“I have a hospitality venue, and a shisa nyama, and I do events, and its busy, so I choose the acting roles I want to do carefully. It has to be worth my time.”

She has since signed up and is now part of the Lockdown season 5 cast.

“I’m a fan. It’s so different, so refreshing, so real. So I was honoured when they found me on Instagram and said they’d written a role for me, but I still asked to read the scripts. I wasn’t just going to say yes. I needed to do something different, and this role is totally different from
what I’ve played before.”

Lebohang Leuta, 28-year-old mom to Atlehang, opened a foundation in his name in Soweto last week to help other people living and dealing with mental health and disabilities.

Altehang, who is now nine years old, suffers from neurofibromatosis type 1 – a genetic disorder characterised by changes in skin pigment and growth of tumors along nerves in the skin, brain and other parts of the body.

But she says as a parent to a disabled child, as much as he suffer, she also suffered immensely.

“I was a young mom – at 19. He was born a normal child in 2010 until he started growing the tumors in 2012. I couldn’t even pronounce the term neurofibromatosis. I isolated my son, became a victim of substance abuse and all I did was just cry.

“I remember wanting to beat him up as a baby crying. I was a young, angry woman. He was being teased by other kids about being abnormal.
“Most of the time I didn’t let him go play with other kids around our area because some parents don’t understand his behaviour.

“Whenever we go to places with swimming facilities he can’t even go swim with other kids as the tumors are on the outside of his body and he feels uncomfortable. I, on the other hand, tried to be strong for both of us.

“I’ve had people walk up to me to mock me about my child. I decided to snap out of depression the very same night when I was mocked about his medical condition. I remember crying all night and actually writing about it on social media. To my surprise I received plenty text messages from parents raising children with medical conditions and disabilities explaining the challenges they face. That’s when I knew I needed to be a voice for the voiceless and a hope for all.”

The foundation has a few social workers and one psychologist at present.
She says her aim is to assist parents with disabled children who struggle to cope as well as those experiencing anxiety, personality disorders, eating disorders, trauma-related disorders and substance abuse disorders.

“Our people are not well-informed or educated; some would even blame witchcraft.”

By Somaya Stockentroom

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