End mental health stigma

Photo: David Zawila.

‘Some years ago, I made a decision to end my life.’

These are Michelle Dewberry’s words as she addressed viewers of The Pledge, a debate show on Sky News, earlier this year.

Surprised by her statement? I certainly was.

Dewberry, from Hull in the United Kingdom, is a business-savvy, straight-talking woman who earned a whopping six-figure salary at 22 years old. She won the second series of the BBC’s The Apprentice, has many business interests and talks frankly about current affairs. She also lends a helping hand to those in need through charity work.

In short, it seems she has it all and can do it all.

And so it did surprise me that she had, at one point, not only thought about ending her life but had ‘made a decision’ to do so. However, as Dewberry later said in an interview on the Lorraine show, “Depression doesn’t discriminate.”

What I found most surprising, and absolutely admirable, was that she spoke so openly and publicly, not only about mental health issues in general but about her own personal experience.

You see, it’s not often that people speak so frankly about their personal experiences of depression, suicide and mental health. And therein lies a major problem that each one of us needs to address.

Here’s why …

Dewberry said the reason her debate on The Pledge was the first time she had spoken publicly about her experience, was because of the stigma attached.

What Dewberry did in opening up and sharing her personal story was a step towards normalising the conversation about mental health.

Tackling the stigma associated with mental health issues is something that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are also spearheading in the United Kingdom with their Heads Together campaign.

Both their campaign and Dewberry share the sentiment that the stigma attached to mental health has been seen to prevent people from seeking help for fear of prejudice.

On Sunday, I remembered Dewberry’s bravery and the drive of the Heads Together campaign as South Africa joined the world in marking World Suicide Prevention Day.

According to the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), in South Africa, there are 23 suicides each day and, further, there are hundreds of suicide attempts every 24 hours.

The theme of this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day was ‘Take a minute, change a life’ as, according to a statement from Sadag, “About 75 per cent of people who attempt suicide give some kind of warning of their intention to a friend or family member.”

In her very personal address, Dewberry explained she was, ‘persuaded to seek medical help’ and was ‘put on a care plan, given anti-depressants and offered therapy’. “I remain grateful for that intervention because it literally saved my life,” said Dewberry.

“But it only happened after I decided to talk – and if people felt less embarrassed or ashamed, less worried about their jobs and the reactions of family and friends, more people would feel able to talk.”

Just think of the possibilities of addressing mental health issues and helping those who are struggling, if only we were all able to speak about mental health as openly and honestly as Dewberry did.

Well, Dewberry said it best when she warned, “This stigma about mental health needs to end now because it is literally killing people.”

So, I’d like to invite you to get the conversation going by sharing your story with us, email [email protected]

Note: The South African Depression and Anxiety Group runs the only Suicide Crisis Helplines in the country on 0800 567 567.

Daniella Potter
News Editor

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