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I don’t smile because I’m okay…

There has always been a lot of stigma around mental health, especially in the African context, but the biggest problem we have is not learning more about it and not knowing how to identify the symptoms. Mental Health Awareness Week is in May and we need to remove that stigma and realise that we have a problem within our community.

As someone who isn’t hard-wired to experience depression like someone else is, it was particularly eye-opening when I dated someone who had depression. In our community it’s not difficult to find someone who has a past riddled with bullying, being cast out by their parents, being assaulted, or even experiencing all kinds of discrimination from within the community itself (fat/fem/bottom shaming for example).

Compound that struggle with societal pressures, financial strain, general ignorance and being HIV positive in this – every man for himself – society, and I’m not surprised that mental illness is rife in our community and we aren’t even aware of the hold it has. Fighting for social justice is an ongoing battle, but losing comrades to the effects of mental illness is definitely avoidable!

over 800 000 people around the world die due to suicide every year

Did you know that over 800 000 people around the world die due to suicide every year and that suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year-olds. These are the stats we need to change because, for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide. Whats worse is people living with HIV are twice as likely to have depression. The stress and effect of the virus could also lead to mood changes and anxiety and this can spiral out of control if it’s not identified and treated.

Good mental health has been attributed to having good relationships with other people. Often we hear of how abusive relationships (physical or emotional) lead to severe depression, not to mention having to deal with the issues of identity, infidelity, reproductive health and individual egos or personalities within the relationship. Then we need to consider the effects of losing a partner. This can send someone into a very dark space of loneliness, where negative thoughts take hold and destructive behaviour start manifesting.

Unfortunately some people have a predisposition to depression and we need to lean how to be more gentle with our words, no matter who we’re speaking to because saying ‘just get over it’ or ‘snap out of it’ is more destructive than supportive, no matter the intention. Yes, certain experiences push people over the edge, but affirmations and a supportive community can save someones life.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group ( are an important resource that we all need to familiarise ourselves with. They deal with Succeed, Bipolar, ADHD, trauma and substance abuse too. They provide links to support groups, ( the option to be contacted by a councillor as well as a list of emergency numbers that could save lives.

This 24hr Mental Health Helpline is a number we should all save because we need to break the fears within ourselves and realise that yes, sometimes we do need help and it’s okay to ask. Empowering ourselves and those around us can be as easy as having a conversation with someone. If you don’t feel comfortable starting the process among family and friends, call 0800 456 789 today and take back your power and invest in your well-being.

Martin Headger is a contributing writer for the Anova Health Institute and these are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.

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