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.