The demon of depression

depression back of a teenager

This week memorial services will be held in Pretoria and Johannesburg for a wonderful young man. After a three-week search, his body was found in his car in the veld  near Pretoria.

Stunned friends cannot believe that he would have taken his own life and his tragic death has affected all of those who knew him.

His story has brought my own deep and painful memories to the surface and I would like to share the story of my own daughter, in the hope that this may be of help to parents and young people who have been affected by depression.

My daughter began her matric year with the world at her feet. She had been elected as deputy head girl, captained 3 school teams and represented her province in 2 disciplines. She was beautiful, bright, popular and caring and she had so much to give the world.

Her year was very tough and the responsibilities loaded on her were enormous. Yet she was adamant that she could do it all. She was an achiever. She never knew how to say “No” , or “ I need help with that” She pulled away and became more distant from our closely knit family.  I began to worry about her behaviour, and suspected that she was using drugs.

Although these new and scary behaviour patterns weren’t entirely consistent with drug use – at least not from what I had read  – I knew her well enough to know that she was in some kind of awful trouble.  I agonized over whether I was being too interfering, or too controlling, or too suspicious, until my gut instinct told me that my mother’s intuition had to be acted upon.

Our wonderful family doctor made a preliminary diagnosis of severe chronic depression and advised me to remove her from school and get her help urgently as she had been planning her own suicide.

With the intervention of an amazing psychiatrist we were on the road to healing her dreadful, deep and destructive depression. She stayed out of school for much of the second half of the year and we wrapped her in as much love and care as we could. I was terrified to leave her on her own in case she was overcome with “the sadness” again, but we slowly built up our trusting relationship and we began to understand this disease and its awful effects.

She wrote her final exams and went on to medical school. Her battle with depression will never be over, but she has the power and the ability to recognize the warning signs.

My wish is that more people could be educated about depression and that the stigma of mental illness could be removed. If my daughter had been diagnosed with cancer, we would have been overwhelmed with support and sympathy and bombarded with information on modalities. Instead, we were constantly faced with negativity, denial and some frightening psychological diagnosis.

I pray that our story can help just one person reach out for help.

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Penguin Mother

Penguin Mother

Penguin Mother, who has asked that her name not be published to protect herself and her child from the stigmatisation she describes in her story.

6 Responses

  1. Dear Karen,
    Thank you for your kind words and I am so glad that you have a wonderful, new bond with your mother. My belief is that there is a strong genetic thread with depression as my father had committed suicide before my daughter was diagnosed. The more we know, the more we can defend ourselves from this disease. I pray that your son will be ok. Keep on loving him and take good care of yourself.

  2. Dear Penguin Mom

    My thoughts and prayers with you. I grew up with a bipolar mother… And I had to learn to let go of the hurt and pain we all went through as a family, For many years we really had no relationship, and I missed having a mother… I took the time last year to research and understand depression in all of its forms, because I wanted to heal my relationship with my mother, and we have created a new bond now. In facts she is my best support in my crises with my son’s (her first born grandson’s) drug addiction.

    Stay blessed!

  3. I have just read an article in the Rosebank Gazette about the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, SADAG. They are looking for volunteers and people interested in starting support groups in their communities.Contact them at or phone 011 262 6396 if you need their help, or if you have energy and support to give to them. Reach out, you are not alone in your battle.

  4. Hi Penguin Mom

    Loved your article and just wanted to let you know you’re not alone!!

    Try telling people you have depression, your husband is manic (top) not bottom bipolar disorder and that you are actually a very happy, loving, dysfuntional FUNCTIONAL family!!

    My prayers are with you!!

  5. hi,
    My 16 yr old son has just been diagnosed with depression which has been a life altering experience for the entire family. His mood swings, irritability, extreme sadness and even hallucinations left us wondering how on earth we were going to “fix” him.

    How do you deal with an “injury” you cannot see but that overwhelms him so that he often spoke of hurting himself.

    Getting the help and medication he needed has brought me back my son and i’m proud to say that he is fighting the disease bravely.

    I wish all others who are touched by this disease well.

    1. Dear Jasmine

      I’m sure that it must be so hard for you to watch your son go through such pain and confusion. I have been there myself. I want to tell you something that I wish I could have told my family when I was depressed:

      Your son is not broken. He is not sad. He is not different. Being depressed is not the same as being sad. You cant smile and laugh and hope that it goes away. I got so angry when the family ran around in circles for me like I was some broken, wounded bird that needed to be looked after, and “fixed”. I wanted them to be there for me, to understand and empathise. I didnt want sympathy (there’s a difference!) You cant fix depression, but you can fight it, you can be supportive for him. Write him a letter. Tell him you love him. Let him fight his own “depression demon” but be there when he needs you. Get a psychologist and the right medication (may take a while).

      I wish I could have shouted at them “I’m not disabled! I’m just depressed!” I wish I could have told them. Please dont get me wrong, my stepmom and dad were incredibly loving and supportive but at times I felt clustered and frustrated – they wouldnt leave me alone.

      I am getting better now. Depression isnt like night and day, its not black and white, its not depressed or not depressed. Its varying stages. There are good days and bad days, sunshine and rain. Unfortunately my relationship with my dad is so badly damaged that we can never be friends again. I battle to look at him when we are together. He took such a role in the recovery that he controlled it and i think got me better by his sheer will. But in doing so, made me control the only thing i could – my weight. After 3 years of professional help, i now am over the anorexia. But as they say, it never leaves you, you just learn to cope wiht it.

      Please love your son, but please understand that this is his demon to fight. Because you might damage something by trying so hard to fix it.


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