Lengoasa (24), originally from Brakpan in the east of Johannesburg, experienced a turning point in managing depression in January 2018 because she decided to get help. She was diagnosed four years ago. 

“I think depression was looming in the air, but the only time I realised it was when my psychiatrist diagnosed me with major depression and having bipolar disorder. Four years later, I realised I was not coping and decided to seek help.” 

Lengoasa describes herself as someone who is outspoken, true to herself, and passionate about people. Being the youngest of three siblings, she says she grew up quickly because of the big age gap between them and her. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more women than men are affected by depression. “Depression is a common mental disorder,” reads the WHO website. “Globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide.”

Signs of depression

In 2014 Lengoasa left home to study at the University of Cape Town (UCT) which was a big shift for her. “I was aware that I was depressed. It was my first year in Cape Town, the first time being on my own and something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t okay.” 

She was seeing a psychologist and was used to talking about her feelings. “When my doctor asked me if I was coping, I realised that my coping mechanism was not that of a normal person [and it was bad]. That’s when she told me I needed further help and referred me to a psychiatric hospital in Cape Town but, I told myself that I’m not mad and I didn’t go.” 

After a major breakdown, Lengoasa decided to research her condition. “The major problem with the black community is that we don’t understand mental health in general. The first thing I said to the doctor when she told me to seek help was that I’m not crazy. My approach to what I was going through was negative until I started reading about it and realised that depression is actually something that happens and there are different ways to manage it.”

Misconceptions and the need for education 

Lengoasa says there is a big misconception in the black community and many people are told to “pray things away when it comes to mental health”. 

“This is why we get people who commit suicide because there were symptoms that were ignored and not given the treatment it needs.” 

She says if people aren’t told to pray, then they’re told they’re bewitched. 

“There is still a big gap when it comes to our society being educated on these issues. We need education on mental health to understand that it is derogatory to say a person is crazy because [depression is]… a chemical imbalance in the brain.” 

She also believes that people should scrutinise the way depression is portrayed in movies and television. “We always see the very extremes [cases] and we don’t see the everyday depressed person.”

Receiving support 

Lengoasa says she was hospitalised for 21-days at the Akeso Psychiatric Hospital in Parktown. And her family has given her a lot of support.

 “They were very supportive because I remember telling my mom that I think I have a bigger problem and I need help. My parents wanted to understand what I was going through. What was frustrating for them is that I was going through all these things without telling them. It was just dark and I needed to [get] out and that was going to the hospital to get the help I needed.” 

Since then, Lengoasa has developed a passion for mental health awareness and encourages all those going through it to seek help and not to be quiet about it. 

“I now know the symptoms and I know when I have reached my [threshold] of being okay. I have dealt with it and I am now allowing myself to feel what I feel. The biggest mistake I have made throughout my life was saying I am okay when I was not. What I am grateful for is that now, I have a support structure and I have entrusted people with my life which is something I have never done before.” – Health-e News