After discovering the root of my depression and anxiety, it became clear why stress is referred to as “the silent killer”. 

At only 20 years old, I found myself sitting on my bed with a handful of pills ready to take my own life. I was tired of how I was feeling, and I wanted it to end.    

Two years earlier, in 2016, I had taken a gap year after I did not get accepted into any university I had applied to. I was embarrassed because in my community there is a stigma attached to taking a gap year.   

I was constantly being asked: “What are you doing with your life now?” and “Doing nothing this year will make you lazy.” While at a funeral, grieving, someone said, “Your brother didn’t take a gap year, so why are you?”  

This constant comparisons to my brother who went to university straight out of school hit me hard. So did seeing my peers move forward while I felt stagnant, and constantly feeling as if I was disappointing my parents. I started doing admin work at our church office and applied again. I eventually got accepted in 2017 for a higher certificate in journalism.  

I could have gone on to work as a journalist, but my plan was always to get an undergraduate degree first. When I received a rejection letter from UCT, I remember feeling embarrassed and like a failure again. Fortunately, I was admitted for an undergraduate degree in copywriting at Vega.  

Within the first two weeks I knew the course was not for me, but I decided to complete the year and switch to a different university or degree programme the following year. As time went on, I found myself feeling sad and angry all the time and going to class made me feel so anxious, I would cry every day.   

My breaking point came the day I received my mark for an assignment that I had worked on day and night – 37%. After that soul-crushing moment, I left campus early without telling anyone, and stopped at two different pharmacies to get as many pills as I could.  

As I sat on my bed later, the stress of dropping out was too much. So was the stress of continuing with the programme. I was ready to end my life. At that very moment, a friend messaged me: “Are you okay?” I am alive today because of that message.  

Since then, there have been a few more instances when I have felt the only way out was to take my own life. In 2022 I started seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist. What came out of these sessions was not only an ADHD diagnosis, but the fact that I have clinical depression and general anxiety disorder.  

The root cause of my mental illnesses was revealed as stress. In the sessions with my therapist, we found a pattern. Whenever life became what felt like unbearably stressful, I would reach such a low that I would only see suicide as the only way out. This discovery is what saved me. 

WHO defines stress as “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation”. An associate professor of health administration and public health at Husson University says stress is good in the short term because it allows us to meet deadlines and fulfil important tasks, however, it does not do well when it is activated long term.  

 The constant stress I had been under since 2016 had taken its toll on me mentally. I realised that I had suppressed my emotions because life was stressful for everyone, and I thought not being able to handle the pressure would make me seem weak.  

Looking back, there are many things I would do differently. I would pay attention to the feelings of hopelessness and the lows that were not just a bad day but would stay constantly with me. 

A clinical professor at Brown University, Carol Landau says that the impact of stress on depression is “one of the most important problems of our time”. I would like to echo her sentiments and add that it is one that we should treat with the seriousness it requires.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Terri-Ann Brouwers. Photo: File