Black man you are not on your own

By Tlotliso Innocent May

Depression has plagued African families for a very long time and increasing suicide rates call for urgent action. African parents need to wake up to the reality that their black children are dying in silence.

We’re talking more about depression, perhaps because it is so prevalent it can no longer be ignored. Veteran actress and producer Sonia Mbele recently admitted that she considered suicide. Rapper Jabulani Tsambo, otherwise known as Hip Hop Pantsula (HHP) to his fans, tried to commit suicide several times in 2015 before he passed away in October this year.

City Press recently reported that as many as 18 men die of suicide each day in South Africa. Garron Gsell, chief executive and founder of the Men’s Foundation said that their organisation is “alarmed by the increasing number of men who take their own lives in South Africa and around the world” and that men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide.

There is an exponential rise in suicide attempts, and depression often affects black communities and black parents who become catalysts for depression, pushing their kids over the edge.

I know the above is true, because I’ve been one of those kids. I am unfortunate to have felt the consequences of a parent denying their child an opportunity to express the effects of their mental illness. The experience ended on a very sad note for me after I finally admitted to my parents that for the past three years prior, I had been harbouring depression and suicidal thoughts. I expected understanding and love from both my parents but only my mother understood. My father suggested prayer, despite my request for therapy.

I later discovered that most of my fellow black people do not believe that depression exists, and they go as far as condemning children with mental illness symptoms as brats and accuse them of “acting white”. Perhaps the statistics around men being more likely to commit suicide is because we have been taught to distance ourselves from our emotions as far as possible. Don’t talk about your feelings, man up, they tell us.

A few months ago, at the height of my depression, I spoke to a few friends about how most black kids who attempt suicide do so not to actually end their lives but in hope that their parents will realise they are having difficulty. It’s a cry for help. The kind of help that barely comes and is often offered a little too late.

Depression is so prevalent in black communities because of ignorance, often parents do not want to accept or admit that their children may be suffering from depression and sadly it is still widely considered a “white disease”. Depression has plagued African families for too long and the increasing suicide rates call for urgent action. African parents need to wake up to the reality that their black children are dying in silence.

If you or someone you know battles depression, get in touch with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

More stories in Issue 105

Contributors

Tlotliso Innocent May

Tlotliso Innocent May is a member of the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers network,. Tlotliso is a #BlackYouthActivist and is focusing his attention on reforming black men. He is the founder of a youth empowerment organisation, Tsowa Darkie.

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