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[OPINION] HHP and the cultural stigma of depression

You try everything to help you sleep. You try everything to help you wake. This is the lonely valley of depression.

This week, Tito Mboweni delivered the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement. But news of numbers, tax breaks, tax increases and debt collection are a far cry from the stats affiliated with those who suffer from depression: a chronic illness which tallies its count in the silent margin of society. To this date, there are no accurate numbers for people of colour who suffer from it.

On the same day as the mid-term Budget speech, hip-hop star HHP passed. His lifeless frame on the floor of his Johannesburg home. The cause of death is suspected to be suicide – this has not been confirmed, and understandably, the family has requested space and respect from the public in this moment of despair.

The caving in of lonely bodies heaving, their hearts beating with a broken rhythm is a zombie in the face of cultures who refuse to recognise these bodies. Until these people, the ones who suffer from the illness of depression, parade further into the dark and leak out of life.

HHP spoke of his depression. Several stories report that some of his last words referred to how he was “losing it”.

It’s also reported the hip-hop star admitted to attempting suicide three times in 2015 – going so far as to seek out information on how to end his life on a suicide website.

Friends hoped he would “come out of it”, However well-intentioned, you cannot hope that someone will surface from a dark space a changed person with a renewed light. Hope in the face of depression and those who suffer with it around you is not enough.

Unfortunately, admitting that you have depression, and talking about it, revealing it to the public, tweeting about, engaging with it, hardly proves effective as well. I have been there.

I have been there in secret, and I have been there in the open.

Each social media post, laced with the hope of some sort of lifeline, often only served as an empty reach.

You cannot escape the fact that the world will shine on without you while yours gives in.

You cannot escape the guilt that only you are to blame for the loss of your smile. But are you? The existential argument is relentless. Like rain. Drop after drop.

And then, of course, there’s the haunting cultural stigma that has no season. It sticks around, rain or shine, it has your bags packed and ready for the inevitable guilt trip your heart and mind will take in the name of traditional expectation.

It will force you to question why you’ve chosen to take this road of self-hatred, sadness and darkness. When, in fact, you had a choice. You could have chosen prayer. You could have chosen a road less taboo. You could have chosen a road unlittered with the illnesses reserved for other classes or other races.

A fact: Depression does not offer us two roads. Only one. Democracy is not synonymous with the disease. There is no option but to live it, and in many cases, die with it or, because of it.

HHP did not choose to hate life, or his life. In fact, to love it and live it is probably all he wanted to do but trust me - a desperate, broken human will do and believe anything if it promises to make them feel better.

When I was caught between a rock and the hard place of cultural stigma, I ended up joining a cult. Again, a desperate, broken human will do anything to feel better.

You cannot hope yourself into a life that constantly wants to spit you out. It doesn’t work.

And, I maintain, a mind that compromises its mental health in the name of culture is a welcome mat for a pathologically terrible idea.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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