Helping Those With Mental Illness
Bona|March 2017

Four readers share their experiences of taking care of a loved one living with a mental illness.

Amanda Mtuli and Fundiswa Nkwanyana

THANDA KUNENE (27) 

Mother has depression and social anxiety disorder

HOW IT STARTED

My mother, Nokuthula Ngoko (44), has been suffering from depression and societal anxieties from an early age. This was caused by the trauma she experienced in her childhood. Growing up, her mental illness was brushed off. As she grew older, it got worse until she had a severe mental breakdown in her early 20's. She was admitted to a psychiatric ward and diagnosed with the disorder. Her mental illness has always been a part of her life, and it was only after the diagnosis that it was taken seriously. Family members had always suspected that something was not well, but didn’t know what it was.

HOW OUR LIVES CHANGED

After she was discharged from the psychiatric ward in 1999, my life became tough. I was still a boy and battling to make sense of her mental illness. I knew that something was wrong, but did not understand what it was. It didn’t help that her illness was not openly discussed. So, I was left to draw my own conclusions. As I grew older, I started researching mental illness to better understand it. She also became extremely emotionally fragile, more so when her illness was mentioned. She became defensive, and that sometimes led to an emotional or mental setback. I had to be cautious by not doing or saying anything to upset or make her emotional. I also had to be aware of the things that were likely to trigger a mental setback – I became selfless from a young age because I had to cater to her emotional well- being over mine. Having a mother with a mental illness is hard, but it gets easier with time and understanding.

LESSONS LEARNT

People suffering from mental illness also need to be informed and empowered so that they can better understand what they are going through. As a family, we surround her with positivity, love and laughter. This has made a difference because her illness is under control. I don’t listen to misconceptions and myths about mental illness, and trust medical research instead. There were times when I was told we could pray the illness away; I never believed that because I was well- informed. A hug, delicious meal and great conversations go a long way in helping loved ones better cope with their illnesses. The simple things bring my mother the greatest joy.

SANGE MAKI-TSHABALALA (27)

Mother-in-law had cancer and two brain tumours

HOW IT STARTED

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