The ‘luxury’ of being depressed

DOWN IN THE DUMPS: Depression is characterized as living in a black hole or having a feeling of doom. PHOTO: Kudzai Mazvarirwofa

DOWN IN THE DUMPS: Depression is characterized as living in a black hole or having a feeling of doom. PHOTO: Kudzai Mazvarirwofa


WHEN I was eight, I was sent home from school because they did not understand why I was “acting out”.


I suffered from depression. But my family kept sending me back to school as they were convinced I was “seeking attention”.
I am not alone in my experience. Many other students have dealt with depression on their own because it is not regarded as an “African” illness. So, it is not easily recognised.
In Xhosa, Ndebele, Shona, Pedi, Tsonga and Venda cultures, there is no term for depression, only terms that describe their actions on the exterior. These terms include ukhatazekile (isiZulu for hurt/ worried/ broken-hearted); hatello yamunagano (Sesotho for oppression of the mind/mind is weighed down) and kufungisisa (Shona for overthinking).

“Usually those who have depression suffer from ancestral problems … I give them a mixture made of plants that we boil for 30 minutes.” Serake said.
Depression and mental disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Autism and Anxiety are viewed as a “luxury” for those who can afford to get them treated. These diseases are seen as a form of “indulgence” for attention-seekers.
Depression is characterised by the Health as “living in a black hole” or having a feeling of impending doom or bleakness. However, some depressed people don’t feel sad a

t all, they may feel lifeless, empty, and disengaged. Men, in particular, may even feel angry, aggressive, and restless. Depression makes it tough to function because day to day “normal” activities become a chore and difficult to undertake.
Common symptoms of depression include headaches, emotional outbursts, acute sadness, isolation, self-loathing, weakness and stomach pains, to name but a few.
Trish Chikura, a University of North-West student, said that before she was diagnosed with Dysthymia, which is a neurotic depression, she had been living with it for over six years. She became aware of it initially when she was 15. “Deep inside, I was empty and had recurring anxiety attacks. I grew up in an unstable household. I saw things as a child that no child should see,” Chikura said.
She said her family, despite being the “catalyst of her depression”, didn’t take too well to her being depressed.
“They are still in denial. Some part of me thinks they don’t see depression as a big thing.”
Depression is not always caused by one isolated incident. While the root cause of depression varies, most cases are usually triggered by a major incident that the patient may have witnessed or suffered.Twenty-two year-old Braamfontein resident Dimitri Leroy Tshabalala suffered from depression when his mother, who was his support system, died.

He realised he was depressed when he suffered from constant headaches, weakness and feelings of loneliness and self-loathing. He became suicidal.
“Now that she was gone, I was at the point I tried to end my life on many occasions but failed,” he said.
Tshabalala said his family was unresponsive to the fact that he was depressed, and his friends acted as his support system.
Because mental illness is an unexplainable phenomenon in African cultures, it has proved difficult for many to get the help they need.
The fact that these diseases are identified with their physical or exterior symptoms makes it more difficult to deal with the root cause.
Wits Vuvuzela spoke to Seth Serake, a Johannesburg based traditional healer, who treats patients suffering from depression. For him, depression was caused by “ancestral problems”. He prepared an oral concoction which would get rid of the depression in two weeks, he claimed.
“Usually those who have depression suffer from ancestral problems … I give them a mixture made of plants that we boil for 30 minutes. They must take one tablespoon three times a day for two weeks. Guarantee in one month the depression is out of the body,” Serake said.

The fact that the concept of depression is clearly not fully comprehended adds to the difficulty in recognising it in its early stages.
Dr Vinitha Jithoo, of the Wits Psychology department, said that the issue of understanding depression in African contexts is not so much about people’s ignorance of the disease but more about the lack of a direct linguistic connection to the disease itself.
They identify depression differently, she said. “This is done by connecting the physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, to the disease but not the mental symptoms,” Jithoo said.
The treatment for depression can be found in acknowledgement of the depression, therapy and sometimes antidepressants, according to These procedures take some time as it also requires lifestyle changes such as exercise, better nutrition, reduction of stress and more sleep.
Wits Vuvuzela approached different people of different ethnic backgrounds and asked them what they thought depression was.
Most of them connected depression to over-thinking, stress, worry and just basic “not feeling well”. Some even went as far as saying that “it does not exist” and when Wits Vuvuzela explained the symptoms they called it “attention-seeking” or “laziness”.

It is important to identify depression in its early stages for it can lead to self-harm and suicide.
In my own experience the most important thing is to get acknowledgement that the disease exists. The hardest part is managing it. It has got easier with time, however.

Guard stops suicide

: Traffic Officer Michael Bodibe point to the ledge a girl attempting suicide stood barefooted.

IN a scene that could have been in an action movie, a Wits traffic control officer grabbed the arm of a young girl and stopped her plunging to her death on the M1 South highway on Wednesday morningOfficer Michael Bodibe says he was walking up towards the Amic deck, at aabout 10.20am, when he saw a woman’s handbag and shoes lying on the grass. He then noticed a girl who had climbed over a railing and was standing on the ledge of the Amic deck, above the  highway.

“You know, I just said to myself; if I can save this girl dear God… the only life lost now is my radio which fell on the ledge), but at least that can be retrieved.”

. As Bodibe was holding onto the girl, he called on some students  to help him pull her over the railing (almost a metre high). “I grabbed her hand because I saw that if I held her jersey – she’d be gone.”

Once Bodibe and two students helped get the girl over the railing, Bodibe says he  borrowed a radio from a colleagues and called security campus. “They literally had to cuddle her because she was fighting them off, screaming ‘let me go, let me go’”, said Rofhiwa Madzena, a first year student who witnessed the event.

“He (Bodibe) literally caught her in the nick of time. I feel pretty traumatised… It was unbelievable because sadly, you see this in the movies, but don’t expect to see it first-hand”.

Bodibe says campus security arrived shortly after he made the SOS call. “They (campus security) took her to Social Sciences – they went with the boy who helped me.”

On Thursday, Bodibe said the social work department confirmed the girl was brought to their offices. Michael Mahada of campus control said, “The student is in a stable condition and has now been transferred to a hospital where she is being treated”.

Injured Esselen resident denies suicide rumours

Suicide rumours spread after a person was seen lying on a side roof of Esselen Residence on a cold Saturday morning on June 11.

Students suspected the worst. The person was a first year education student, who does not want to be named. “I don’t know what happened, all I remember is falling from a window,” he said.

“[The next thing] I remember is waking up in the morning on the floor outside feeling cold and screaming for help because I couldn’t move.”

He said he wanted people to know that it was not intentional, he did not intend committing suicide. His roommate said: “He woke me up at about 1am [on the Friday night], telling me that he feels dizzy.

“I advised him to go to the bathroom sink and wash his face.” The student then decided to take a shower and went to sleep. He woke up later and went to the bathroom. It was then that he fell from the second floor.

He was bleeding excessively and had cuts on his left eye, hands and nose. He fractured his pelvic bone and could not walk for two weeks. The cuts were from a shattered bathroom basin that had been pulled off the wall.

The window he fell through is about the size of a normal computer screen.The student said he was told he might be epileptic. When he was released from the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, doctors couldn’t confirm the diagnosis and are still to run more tests.

He said he is fine at the moment.The house committee held a prayer that Saturday evening and the hall co-ordinator, Muchaparara Musemwa, explained to students that he had a medical condition.

Accommodation officer Elsie Mooke said there are no safety measures taken to prevent jumping incidents.