Depression in the black community is in the spotlight again, following the tragic news that world-renowned cardiologist and University of Cape Town (UCT) Dean of Health Sciences, Dr Bongani Mayosi, took his own life after a two-year battle with the illness.
There’s growing speculation that violent protests that broke out at the university in the wake of the #FeesMustFall movement significantly contributed to Mayosi’s depression, with UCT Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng on Sunday revealing that his office had become a battleground for disgruntled students, who occupied the space for two weeks.
“He went on three months’ leave and early this year, collapsed because of a psychological attack. Protests in 2016/17 weren’t kind to him as a Dean. Students were angry at him, called him a coconut – out of anger. He experienced pressure from staff, students and black students,” she told journalists.
It was also revealed that he tried to resign from the post in November last year to return to his first love – being a professor – but this seemingly fell on deaf ears, despite the institution being aware of his struggle with depression.
“It’s a pity that we as an institution didn’t listen to him then draw on his strength. Make sure he is happy,” Phakeng was quoted saying in an IOL report.
His death has sent shockwaves through the country and highlights the need to destigmatise depression generally, but especially among men.
Two years ago, hip-hop artist Jabulani Tsambo, aka HHP, was ridiculed when he opened up about his three failed attempts at committing suicide, with many South African labelling him “weak”.
A large part of the way black South Africans react to depression stems from the fact that many people in the community still don’t perceive it as a serious mental illness.
Unlike the progress we’ve experienced around destigmatising HIV/Aids in communities, psychiatrist Dr Jan Tshabalala says, we still have a long way to go to remove the stigma that is attached to depression in the black community.
“People will say that you are weak for seeing a shrink. They will tell you to pull yourself together. Other people in our community will refer to black magic and say that (bakuloyile), you have been bewitched,” he said in a previous interview with DESTINY MAN.
Psychiatrist Dr Frans Korb says ego plays a big role in how men interact with the issue of depression and a solution is often finding a way to get men to comprehend that depression is a medical condition.
READ MORE: Are you depressed?
“Men always have egos and they always feel that if they have to go for help, psychiatric or psychological help, that this is a sign of weakness,” he says. “One needs to explain that depression is a biological illness and needs to be treated from a medical point of view. Often, once they understand that it’s a medical thing, it kind of makes them more at ease and they’re more inclined to get help.”
Signs of depression
Korb says depression in men tends to manifest during periods of stress, with financial and work stress being the leading culprits.
Here are a few signs to look out for that could indicate you’re depressed:
- Interacting with friends and family in a different way, possibly by being more withdrawn and prone to emotional outbursts
- Being less able to cope with everyday work and/or academic pressures
- Dysfunctional behaviour in one or more areas of your life.