Mental Health Stigma and The Black Community

Mental illness should not be treated like a light-weight symptom that gets cured by home remedies or a good night’s rest; it should be taken seriously with each passing day – especially within our black communities.

The year 2018 took flight with so many cases of suicide with particular emphasis amongst the youth in various universities, with Wits (probably) being at the forefront. Wits University suicide rate took center stage when two or more students and lecturers reportedly committed suicide in the same week – SAME WEEK.  I’m putting those words in caps so that you see the magnitude of what I am about to address when it comes to mental health and the Black community. 

From the stories, I’ve read online, and the Tweets and Facebook statuses that I’ve seen, a majority of these students were BLACK. Now, if lecturers and students are taking their lives every other day, surely something about the system should be triggering this?

We have young people who are professionals in their respective careers taking their lives because of the daily pressures they succumb to. Now these types of cases are the worst because when you’re driving your VW or BMW and live in a two bedroom apartment people start to think that life is all sunshine and roses for you when in actual fact it’s not. They see all these tangible things you possess and think that you OUT OF ALL people shouldn’t even be having problems of any kind, but in fact, at that particular moment, life is draining every last bit of you and you’re trying so hard to hold on but the smallest thing triggers you and you take your life instead of seeking help because “your life seems perfect, what more do you want?” is a more “suitable” response to something taken from face value than to actually ask the individual what is bothering them. 

I particularly chose to talk about mental health and the Black community because we are raised to withstand any type of pain we experience. We are referred to as “magical” when our strength triumphs our challenges. We are magical when we stand up for ourselves against our oppressors; when we top our classes; when we become the first “something” after years of pushing through the pile and finally reaching the top, but to what extent does it stop being magic when everything we’ve had to endure to get to where we are has broken us to the core? Am I still magical when you find out that I’m bipolar – or am I now just another statistic who can’t seem to control my moods? 

Growing up, I would see people who had lost their minds roaming the streets, either talking to themselves or acting in ways that would ultimately have them shun from society in a heartbeat. Their behavior was out of the norm mostly indescribable and the only way to make sense of what they were going through was to pin it on witchcraft or cults that they might have been a part of before their current state of mind.

Witchcraft is a widespread practice  and 80% of the time becomes a reference for all the bad things that happen to most Black people. When we speak up about depression, we are told that “ke boloyi ntho eo” meaning ” you’re bewitched”; unaware that the patterns or changed behaviour leading to constant fatigue and disinterest in the things that once rocked your boat is a result of internal suffering. It is automatically assumed that the above actions are a result of  being  lazy and antisocial – which could be true, but that could be triggered by other factors that both parties are not aware of.  

We need to create awareness around mental health issues because our people are dying, unable to speak up due to judgements. We need to stop making everything that’s “out of the ordinary” a taboo and actually have conversations about them. We, as a Black community need to stop sweeping problems under the rug and hoping that things will get better through prayer. Prayer works, yes, but facing the truth and taking action is also fruitful in combating the stigma around mental illness. 

 It takes a village to raise a child, and it should also take the same village to assist that child or individual when they are faced with challenges that are out of their control. 

Let us educate one another so that we can help one another.

Below are mental health helplines that are readily available for you.


SADAG (South African Depression and Anxiety Group)

011 234 4837

Suicide Crisis Line:

0800 567 567

Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline

0800 70 80 90

Pharmadynamics Police &Trauma Line
0800 20 50 26

Destiny Helpline for Youth & Students
0800 41 42 43

ADHD Helpline
0800 55 44 33




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