Depression is real, but can be beaten


“I’m depressed, I’m losing it,”  those close to hip-hop star Jabulani Tsambo aka Hip-Hop Pantsula (HHP) reported that this is what he said a few days before he died. They described how he spoke of hopelessness and the feeling of his life was spiraling out of control. HHP’s death and that of many before him, celebrities and ordinary people alike, is proof that depression is a common mental health disorder.

We live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs to ensure you get medical attention.  Yet, if you tell people you are depressed, people do not know what to do and may even run the other way. We live in a world that doesn’t understand depression and anxiety, or mental health in general.

As we observe October as Mental Health Awareness month, we must acknowledge that depression and mental illness is real.  It is around us, in our homes, schools and the workplace. For several reasons, depression is often not a simple matter. Coexisting mental and physical illnesses can  make the recognition of depression difficult.  Moreover, some people may have physical symptoms that can mask depression, while others have feelings of extreme sadness which can be pointers to a deeper problem.

Symptoms of depression vary but typically include a combination of the following: insomnia, sleeping a lot, eating too much or too little, loss of energy, fatigue, disinterest in life and activities that used to be enjoyable and a general diminished ability to concentrate. Psychologists and psychiatrists also list these as potential observable signs of depression: changes in appearance, hostility, suspiciousness, slowed speech and movements, wringing of hands, picking of skin, pacing, and outbursts of aggression.

Many individuals who experience emotional symptoms of depression report gaining little pleasure from almost any activity as HHP was reportedly to have said. Some report feeling angry, dismal, agitated, humiliated, and often melancholy to the point of tears, sad, miserable, meaningless, and even anxious. 

Anyone who experiences any of these symptoms for more than two weeks is advised to go and see their doctor. It is  pity that in many workplaces, employees choose to suffer through their mental illness in silence, fearing shame should they speak out, while employers avoid asking too many questions, hoping mental health disorders will just disappear on their own.  

More than 40% of all work-related illness is due to work-related stress, major depression, and burnout and anxiety disorders.It is reported that people aged between 25 and 44 are most affected by depression and take more than 18 days per annum off work because of it.

So how can we beat depression as a nation?  First, we must start by talking about it more freely and openly without making other feel ashamed.  We must listen to our friends and colleagues well so that where the signs mentioned above raise an alarm bell, we can have make gentle nudges to see a doctor to discuss things. Then, if the diagnosis is made, we must stick to the treatment and therapy for at least 9 months to gain a handle on it. 

Workplaces need to consider their policies to make sure that there is room for effective treatment for those who have mental illness as they could still be effective contributors, even while on treatment.  Where possible, ensure that your employee assistance programs and medical scheme has effective prevention and disease support to assist your employees to reduce the impact of mental illness in your organization.

However, since prevention is better than cure, psychologists list the following steps to reduce the likelihood of mental illness, but they also be used to manage early depression. Some of these steps include, occasionally, break away from the routines and stresses in your life, do not wait till breaking point; analyse how you view the world and your place in it. Done regularly and with friends, this will reduce our likelihood of being too extreme in your way of thinking which often leads to feelings of hopelessness. Utilise the power of positive and solution thinking. This can learnt and there are a vast array of books to help along the journey of forming good mental health habits. It is important to make time for yourself as it can help reduce stress as well as increase your level of physical activity. Finally, eat healthy, choose balanced meals on a regular basis and get a health risk assessment and/or a thorough medical examination. Initiate conversations about mental health with your healthcare provider, even if you are there for a different health need.

Depression can happen to anyone. With improved diagnosis and treatment, everyone has the potential to experience a better quality of life and prevent tragedy.  As individuals, families and workplaces we need to increase our awareness of depression to ensure that help is obtained as early as possible.


Dr Lungi Nyathi is Executive Director for Health Management at AfroCentric Health Group, owners of Medscheme, Allegra, Helios and other health care companies.