“How dare I!?” Actress and SABC3’s Afternoon Express presenter Bonnie Mbuli berated herself with this question over and over. Suffering from clinical depression after a perceived failure to make it in Los Angeles, USA, a few years ago, her debilitating mental condition was compounded by feelings of shame. At home she was a well-known media personality and an accredited actress, so she thought she had “no business” feeling so low.
Friends and family confirmed this perception. “They’d say: ‘You’ve got everything – what’s your problem?’ I thought it was incredibly selfish to feel so overwhelmingly hopeless, helpless and so anxious. I kept telling myself to snap out of it,” she recalls.
At the same time, Mbuli worried about how people’s perceptions of her would affect her career if she admitted to being so depressed.
“If you’re a public figure, people are constantly watching you. You have to always be ‘on’. That comes with its own pressures.”
Mbuli’s one of the 20% of all South Africans who’ll experience a depressive disorder at least once during their lifetime. The latest World Health Organisation figures estimate that more than 300 million people suffer from the condition.According to SA Depression & Anxiety Group (Sadag) statistics, the incidence of suicide in SA is now 23 a day.
Yet, despite these alarming figures, for many of us there’s still something incomprehensible about depression in people whose lives we envy. “Many depressives who are successful continue trying to hide their despair,” says Mbuli. “When you’re an over-achiever, no-one must know that your life isn’t perfect.”
Which may be why the recent suicide of University of Cape Town (UCT) cardiologist and acclaimed researcher Dr Bongani Mayosi shocked the nation, prompting a bewildering conversation on social media. How could such a successful person, and a doctor to boot, with access to medication, education and other resources, reach that point of no return?