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Mental Health: How family and friends have failed us

Mental Health: How family and friends have failed us

by: Armand Mukenge - 17 October 2017

Depression is a challenging mental health condition, things become a lot tougher when we include the pressures that come from our family and friends.

We spoke to Bonga Botha and Thando Tshabalala* about dealing with a mental health condition and the challenges that come with coming out to families.

For Bonga, her mental health breakdown happened in 2016 while studying towards a social work degree. She was doing well academically, even getting a golden key, her emotional and mental health took a massive dip.

“I was excelling at everything until I realised that the course I was doing was not making me happy. I got frustrated and tired. I made the decision to step away from school.”

Things got worse when her family and some of her friends got involved. “I watched myself plunge deeper into depression because of the pressure from my extended family and some of my friends. They tried to make me stay in school even though I had made the decision to take a break. ”

The sociology student recalls feeling like she had failed her family.

“I got the sense that I was failing at the very thing that I was supposed to be excelling at, academics. Although my marks showed that I was performing well, I saw myself sink into a state of feeling like I was not smart enough,” Bonga added.

For Thando, it was his relationship with his father that was the beginning of his challenges. “My father has been an absent father. Seeing other kids with theirs got to me,” he recalls.

Thando’s mental illness started at the age of 17 years old. However, it became more challenging later on in life because he had to interact with his father because of increasing financial demands in university.

“I have a father who is well off but refuses to pay my school fees and refuses to be part of my life. I started feeling unimportant. As a result, I fell into depression.”

For the law student, the pattern began slowly, “I started by hating my father, then I started hating myself. It became easy to think of myself as inferior to everyone, this made it difficult to go class or to show up to my other commitments.”

Thando tried to reach out to his friends but found himself sinking deeper into depression. “The responses I got from my peers was, you have stagnated spiritually, and you have lost your way.”

There was pressure for him to carry on. “My Christian friends used scriptures to try to force me to do what I needed, but they didn’t give attention to what I was going through. In a way, I had no other choice but to perform and get things done. I understand that financially it is not viable for me to not come to class and go deal with it.”

“Seeking help became difficult because of the fear of being ridiculed in a way. Because of the lack of support, these caused me to condemn myself into a deeper depression. All because we are expected to show up and continue with school or whatever, even when it’s hard,” says Tshabalala.

“After starting to see a psychologist, I am now getting better,” he says.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group is there to assist you if you need help on how to overcome depression and Anxiety. You can learn more about them here. Or you can call the 24-hour helpline; 0800 21 22 23.

*Thando Tshabalala is not his real name