A staggering 41.9% of women in SA are affected by depression or related mental-health issues – that’s nearly half of us. But more worryingly, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADG) believes that less than 16% of sufferers are receiving treatment. Changing these stats to healthier ones will depend on our willingness to speak up – and seek help – when we need.
Here, six celebs who’ve been real about mental health. Be inspired by their honesty and know that if you fall into these stats, you’re not alone – and there’s help on hand.
The Afternoon Express host threw her battle with clinical depression into the limelight with her 2014 memoir Eyebags & Dimples. Criticising society’s obsession with perfectionism and addressing the social stigma surrounding depression, Bonnie Mbuli’s book, and willingness to be open about her struggles, triggered discussions across SA about mental-health awareness.
As Mbuli recounts: ‘I didn’t want to take meds in the beginning – I fought it. I didn’t want to constantly have to confirm every morning that I wasn’t perfect. I didn’t want to keep reminding myself that I had flaws.’ But in seeking treatment, Mbuli got the medical help she needed to get back on track – and the affirmation that her journey with depression was nothing to be ashamed of.
The model-turned-actress enjoyed a dizzying rise to fame in 2012 – only to find herself overwhelmed by anxiety and depression. So Cara Delevingne did what anyone should: she stepped back, found a mentor, and asked for help. First, Delevingne took a break from work. Then she sought advice in the form of supermodel Kate Moss: ‘Kate Moss saved me – she stepped in and picked me up off the floor at a stressful time.’
It wasn’t the first time Delevingne took self-care measures: when she was 16, her honesty about feeling depressed moved her to leave school for a period of time and start taking medication. The model has suggested that this decision might have saved her life: ‘I was suicidal. I couldn’t deal with it any more,’ explained Delevingne. ‘I realised how lucky and privileged I was, but all I wanted to do was die. I felt so guilty because of that and hated myself because of that, and then it’s a cycle. I didn’t want to exist anymore. I wanted for each molecule of my body to disintegrate. I wanted to die.’
Delevingne has also credited lifestyle changes – like taking up writing and yoga – as helping her to feel healthier and cope more effectively.
It was when the songstress was being treated for anorexia, bulimia and self-harming that Demi Lovato was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. ‘In the end, I was so relieved that I got the diagnosis I did,’ Lovato told Refinery29. It was finally an explanation for the rollercoaster of high highs and low lows that Lovato had been juggling for years.
Lovato’s journey of recovery and reclaiming her life has been a public one – just follow her on Twitter and you’ll get some seriously inspiring insight into her self-care process. Bottom line: professional help made all the difference for Lovato, and it can for you, too, if you’re fighting similar issues.
Even as a child, actress, writer and director Lena Dunham dealt with a daily storm of fears and anxiety: the result of crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It’s a disorder Dunham has been determined to remove the stigma from, even portraying it in her hit TV series Girls.
Sharing insight in her memoir Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham recalled the anxiety her OCD would trigger: ‘I am eight, and I am afraid of everything. The list of things that keep me up at night includes but is not limited to: appendicitis, typhoid, leprosy, unclean meat, foods I haven’t seen emerge from their packaging, foods my mother hasn’t tasted first so that if we die we die together, homeless people, headaches, rape, kidnapping, milk, the subway, sleep.’
But we think Dunham’s biggest contribution to mental-health awareness has been her openness about the medication she takes – the help she’s actively sought to take back control: ‘Lately I’ve been noticing that nearly every pop-cultural image we see of a woman on psychiatric medication is that of an out-of-control, exhausting and exhausted girl who needs help. But guess what? Most women on meds are women who have been brave enough to help themselves.’ Amen, sister!
Despite the bubbly persona of her 7de Laan character Alyce, Vuyelwa Booi was harbouring a dark secret: a long-running battle against depression. ‘Suicidal thoughts have been my enemy for years,’ Booi acknowledged in an interview in 2010. One of the things she feels is hardest for sufferers? Finding someone to talk to about it – and knowing that you are not alone. It was only through hospitalisation that same year that Booi believes she was forced to acknowledge her ‘disease’, and re-think her self-care.
‘My parents didn’t want me to take antidepressants. We didn’t even talk about my depression. Many people, especially in the black community, don’t see depression as a disease. They think it’s just moodiness, something you just have to snap out of,’ said Booi. But, of course, ‘snapping out’ of depression is not how the condition works.
Being aware of your condition, and potential triggers, is one of the ways Booi believes you can combat depression. ‘I still don’t know exactly what I have to do but I’ve made a few changes in my life. I’ve started avoiding places and situations that upset me, as well as people who drain me emotionally. And I’m easy on myself.’ And seeking professional help, whether it’s therapy, psychology, medication or all of the above, can tool you to be the best you you can be.
Lady Gaga is another global star lifting the veil of silence surrounding mental illness. ‘I openly admit to having battled depression and anxiety and I think a lot of people do. I think it’s better when we all say: “Cheers!” and ‘fess up to it,’ the singer has said.
It’s also one of the driving factors behind Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, which works to aid the wellness of young people, with a key focus on mental health. As the foundation’s mantra states: ‘We believe mental wellness is another key component to understand in order to create a kinder and braver world.’ We couldn’t agree more!
Struck a chord with you? Helplines and websites you can use:
- SADAG suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393
- SADAG website: sadag.org
- Lifeline (24-hours, toll-free): 0800 055 555