Depression: The Silent Killer

‘Thank you to all who loved me, cared for me, helped me. Please forgive me.’

I read the post again and again and again. The flurry of emotions that run through me is unexplainable. I go from anger to disbelief, between wiping tears away.

The message is on the facebook wall of a friend who, 3 weeks ago, decided life was just too much and had taken her own life. Now before you all start to judge, because we all judge those who commit suicide, I will stop you in your tracks.

Jane* was an amazing person. I met her for the first time on 15 November 2008. She walked into my physiotherapy practice, and gosh she was colourful. When I say colourful, I mean in every way. She didn’t mince her words for a second, and used words that made even me blush. She was funny. Gosh, she made me laugh. She would tell me about people in her life, and stories, and about her dogs, and she was just such an amazing human being. But there was always a hint of sadness. The laughter never quite reached her eyes.

A few years later she would tell me about the death of her little boy, the hurt she carried along. Actually, I read it in a magazine, and then she told me the whole story. He died at 6 months from cot death. My heart went out to her. She told me how she became an alcoholic, and how she turned her life around. And how she was happy. She reiterated it the whole time. “I am happy, Adele,” she would tell me. I believed her, sort of.

We became Facebook friends and WhatsApp chat buddies, and we even had a cup of coffee together once or twice, and then in 2018, I started seeing the cracks. I started seeing the depression monster rear its head. We had chatted and in the early part of this year, she had been admitted to a centre for a nervous breakdown.

I thought things were on the up when she told me she met someone and she told me she was in love. 55 days later she was dead. Just like that, she had taken her own life. How do things go so wrong, in such a short space of time?

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 300 million people are affected by depression. In South Africa, 21% of teenagers have considered suicide at some point in their teens. There are different types of depression and it can be categorised as mild, moderate and severe.

Recurrent depressive disorder

This disorder involves repeated depressive episodes. During these episodes, the person experiences depressed mood, loss of interest and enjoyment, and reduced energy leading to diminished activity for at least two weeks. Many people with depression also suffer from anxiety symptoms, disturbed sleep and appetite and may have feelings of guilt or low self-worth, poor concentration and even medically unexplained symptoms. (www.who.int)

Bipolar affective disorder

This type of depression typically consists of both manic and depressive episodes separated by periods of normal mood. Manic episodes involve elevated or irritable mood, over-activity, the pressure of speech, inflated self-esteem and a decreased need for sleep. (www.who.int)

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group offers support groups for depression and all mental illnesses.

What do you do if you suspect someone is suffering from depression? Or is thinking about taking their own life?

You need to encourage them to get help. Be there for them, but trust me, do not try and take it upon yourself to try and save them. People suffering from depression, have a chemical imbalance in their brain. These are often very well controlled through treatments such as behavioural activation, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) or antidepressant medication, or a combination.

Keep in mind, should anti-depressant medication be used, it often comes with a string of side-effects, and it is of utmost importance that the person suffering sees a qualified psychiatrist and not just a general practitioner. A full medical history needs to be taken to check reactions between other medication, and once on medication, further psychological therapy should be seeked.

We live in a day and age where we are stressed beyond measure. Crime, the economy, the rate of divorce, to name a few, contribute to the daily stress that we all experience. We watch people daily, on social media, seemingly happy, and content, living their best life. Only to realise that it was all only for the ‘gram’.

Ask for help. Offer help. Listen to the person who wants to pack off on you. Answer the phone when someone phones, if you miss the call, phone back. Make time for each other. Don’t wake up one morning, and find the note that says, my life was so dark, so lonely, that I just couldn’t continue on a social media platform.

I sit and read through our WhatsApp messages, and I laugh. A message sticks with me, “You make me feel like a million bucks,” she says, after I thanked her for an invite to an event – I rack my brain. How, if this was true, could you no longer face life? The questions go through my head and I find myself wiping away tears. Am I angry at her, how can I be? Have I walked a day in her shoes, I would have understood her pain and anguish better maybe. Had I seen the string of messages, I would have sent her a message to check if she was okay. Would it have made a difference? Who knows. Hindsight brings 20/20 vision, and one can sit and tear everything apart looking for answers, or you can make peace and remember her for the beautiful being that she was. I choose the latter.

Rest in peace, my dear friend. For you will walk amongst the fields with your beloved dogs that went before you. I am sorry I wasn’t there to cast more light in your dark time.

For any help contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group

*Names have been changed

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Adele Koolen
Adele Koolen

Health Editor

Adele Koolen studied BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy at Wits, practiced as a Physio for 15 years, and became one of the most sought-after Physios in the world sport arena. However, a hand injury in 2017 forced Adele to pursue alternative business ventures, resulting in her becoming a successful businesswoman and philanthropist. She is currently a Social Media Manager for a design company in Johannesburg, the founder of the #IAmEnoughZA campaign and the reigning Mrs SA Charity.

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