Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Doctors have mental health issues too

Mental wellness and stability is a fragile gift that we often take for granted until it is threatened or completely stripped away from us. I am a medical doctor who has been living with bipolar disorder since the tender age of 14. My illness is older than my medical degree as a result.  Despite this, my accolades have often been undermined because of the stigma that results from my vulnerable state of relapse.

In South Africa, 26 May marks Bipolar Awareness Day on the mental health calendar. Unfortunately, many are unaware of this day including those of us who live with this illness.

Mental illnesses are still not viewed as genuine illnesses. To compound this unfortunate reality, they are still poorly understood.

My 20-year relationship with my mental illness has been both bright and dark, much like the severe mood fluctuations which are the cornerstone indicators of the illness. What makes bipolar disorder different from depression is the toxically intense elevations in mood; what they have in common is the dark plummet into despair. The feeling of joy and power during a manic episode, coupled by irritability, excessive energy and decreased need for sleep are highly exhausting and can subsequently become debilitating after a relapse. The depression, which feels like rock climbing without a harness after emerging from a deep hole, can be so low that the wish to no longer live becomes overpowering — suicidal ideations which I am all too familiar with.

Bipolar disorder can be debilitating. I had this experience a year ago during my six-month incapacity leave following a major relapse. This season was one of the most challenging in my life. To my mind this planned time of rehabilitation was my being rendered incompetent by my psychiatrist. In hindsight, I am grateful for this time because I learned the most that I have learned about my illness during that time.

I was able to understand and appreciate the importance of the role of occupational therapy more than ever as they were integral on my journey to my return to baseline level of functioning. During this time, I registered a non-profit organisation and wrote a book Reflections Of A Convoluted Mind: A journey with my mental illness. Both initiatives and projects are aimed at validating and legitimising the experiences of those, like myself, with mental illnesses and to psycho-educate our supporters and community at large.

I often share my firm belief that the best storyteller about mental health struggles is the one living with them and is directly affected by it.

More light needs to be shone on this matter because doing so is among the most important means of confronting and addressing the malignancy of stigma.

I look forward to the day when living with this illness is unapologetically owned and bravely acknowledged. I also look forward to the day when bipolar disorder is better understood. Being granted this platform is a step in realising this very possible dream.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group is there to help you.  

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Samke J Ngcobo
Dr Samke J. Ngcobo is a medical doctor working toward the day when mental illness is treated with the same respect as physical illness.She is the founder of thenon-profit organisation Sisters For Mental Health and Vocal Mentality

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Libyan town clings to memory of Gaddafi, 10 years on

Rebels killed Muammar Gaddafi in his hometown of Sirte on 20 October 2011, months into the Nato-backed rebellion that ended his four-decade rule

Fishing subsidies in the W. Cape: ‘Illegal fishing is our...

Fishers claim they are forced into illegal trawling because subsidies only benefit big vessels

Kenya’s beach boys fall into sex tourism, trafficking

In the face of their families’ poverty, young men, persuaded by the prospect of wealth or education, travel to Europe with their older female sponsors only to be trafficked for sex
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×