Drowning in Depression – what is the alternative?

We are in the midst of a devastating crisis of despair and confusion. Our society is spiraling into a state of debilitating anxiety, desperately seeking a way out. While we are having conversations about the statistics and feeling incapacitated by them, hundreds of South Africans are attempting suicide every day, and many are succeeding. It is time that we start looking deeper. The crisis of suicide, anxiety and depression is a crisis of disconnection with ourselves and each other. It is a symptom of deep divides. It is a crisis of meaning and lack of humanity.

According to the World Health Organisation, someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds. On the 13th July 2018, Dan Sevel, a 40-year-old marketing manager at Sun International died when he threw himself off a building. Two weeks later, on the 27th July 2018, Professor Bongani Mayosi, a prominent and respected Dean of Health Sciences at UCT took his own life. Just a few days after that, Khensani Maseko, a Rhodes university student ended her life after she had been raped. In one month, it has taken three high profile suicides to set media ablaze and bring attention to the ‘mental health crisis’.

A twitter search on #depression gives us a glimpse into the psyche of the collective in South Africa.
“Why was I born?”
“Hanging myself – this is what I think about most of the time.”
“Depression is a beautiful disease. It hurts in ways that the human mind can’t imagine without having felt it. You are forced to stay still and listen to yourself. You are constantly at the crossroads of self-discovery. You are obligated to self-love to survive.”
“If I die, don’t say I committed suicide when all I did was try to put a stop to the pain.”
“It’s amazing how lonely you can feel surrounded by so many people.”
“Don’t tell someone suffering from depression to pray about it.”
“I don’t think people really understand just how stressful it is to explain what’s on your mind, when you don’t understand it yourself.”
“Still here. Don’t want to die but don’t know how to endure the pain of living.”

One might argue that social media is simply bringing more of our awareness to what has always been the case, but we can no longer ignore the facts. The calls that come through the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) have increased from 300 to 600 a day in just one year. conversations will centre around the topic until the media grips the mass mind with the next most compelling story. Meantime, the slow collective suicide that is eroding the essence of our individual and collective psyche continues.

While much work is being done by many individuals and organisations to destigmatise depression, encouraging people to seek help and talk about what they are experiencing, the risk is that we are skirting around the greater conversation that we can no longer ignore. We are getting trapped in the conversation and the ‘diagnosis’ which justifies the quick fix. The risk of having deeper conversations and shedding light on the full story is the fear of the discomfort and trauma that is revealed.

Let us not miss the opportunity to open to the lesson of this crisis by attempting to placate it or find a quick solution for it. The invitation for all of us who have been called as healers, activists and caregivers is to gather here with each other, to feel what is happening and what wants to emerge through us.

Scientists, philosophers and mystics have spent lifetimes attempting to understand the complexities of human emotion and behaviour. Emotion is a fundamental aspect of the human experience. The crisis now is that we have lost the ability to navigate our emotional landscape, we have lost our language through which we can experience and express our deepest feelings. We have lost the ability to be with pain, to find the healing in the wound. It has become too easy to distract ourselves from what feels uncomfortable through technological devices, chemical substances and material trappings. The avoidance, numbing, survival and blaming strategies simply lead to more disconnection from ourselves, each other, and ultimately, even deeper pain.

The time has come us as individuals and as a society to challenge from a place of greater self-awareness. We are being called on to reconnect with our humanity our core values and to each other. We are being asked to live the spirit of Ubuntu and to find simple ways to find safety and meaning in these times of change, uncertainty and instant gratification. It is time to get back to basics, to old practices and timeless wisdom.

I believe no time was ever as urgent as now, that the disease of disconnection is the very scourge that will determine whether our species will survive or not. The Earth will undoubtedly endure the devastating effects of human impact on her, the question is whether the human species will survive our self-created death traps.

Profile of Dr Ela Manga

Dr Ela Manga is an Integrated Medical Doctor who strongly advocates bold and honest conversations addressing the deep-seated issues of society as a collective and as individuals. Ela is a catalyst for change in the lives of individuals, groups and broader society and provides a compassionate but challenging space for her clients in their journey to wholeness.
Her background in western medicine, study of wisdom traditions and deep curiosity has informed her unique approach to health and wellbeing. Ela is an expert in the field of energy management and uses modern medicine as a framework to delve deeper into the root causes of illness by drawing on safe and natural healing systems. Ancient wisdom and continuous research drive her healing philosophy which is accessible and relevant to all.

In her first book, BREATHE: Strategising Energy in the Age of Burnout, Ela discusses her
approach to mental, physical and emotional health through real-life case studies. She is a sought-after speaker, both locally and internationally, and has a revolutionary way of facilitating groups for profound transformation.