Millennials and Gen Z are leading conversations about mental health. Sue-Ann Crockett, adds her voice to the convo.
When were you diagnosed?
I terminated a pregnancy in 1999 and, at the time, I wasn’t allowed to talk about it or process the feelings associated with having made such a harrowing choice. I wasn’t offered post-operative therapy or counselling and, as a result, I bottled it all up. After I miscarried in 2003, I suffered a mental breakdown. I felt immensely guilty and believed I was being punished for a decision I’d made in the past, which I honestly feel saved my life, in the long run, as the father of the baby was emotionally and physically abusive. I was sent for counselling, diagnosed with clinical depression and put onto anti- depressants. I had another nervous breakdown at work last year. I was aware that my depression was back, but suspected that I’d also developed an anxiety disorder. After the breakdown, I sought help and was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder (GAD). I was prescribed anti-anxiety meds and also decided to go back onto anti-depressants, which quite honestly saved my life.
Who was the first person you told and how easy or difficult was it to open up?
I pretty much told everyone from the get-go that I was undergoing therapy and had been given anti- depressants – the fact I was suddenly acting normal again was a giveaway, anyway. If anyone asked why, my rote response was that it had been triggered by my miscarriage. I never talked about the termination. It took me years to finally make peace with it all, but now I talk about it openly because I feel women should be allowed to make their own decisions about their body and their health. The stigma surrounding this issue is literally killing people, so I won’t be silent about it. I’ll be a voice for those who’re too broken or too scared. With the recent return of my depression and an additional diagnosis of GAD, I’ve been even more vocal about it.
How did you deal with the stigma around mental illness?
I’ve seen many of my friends and co-workers suffer because of misinformation and stigma, so I do everything in my power to help them find the strength to overcome the stigma and gain back their power of self. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about; it’s just like any other physiological illness, only this one just happens to involve our brain.
How important are wellness sessions in the workplace?
Very important. I know of a few companies that offer therapy to staff and their partners, free of charge, and this works in incredible ways. Your staff may be perfectly fine, but if they’re dealing with a partner who’s suffering, they’ll be negatively affected, and this can influence their performance.
In the context of a relationship, do you have to be completely transparent with your partner?
Absolutely. Your partner needs to understand what you’re going through, so they can support you on the bad days. My husband’s 100% supportive of my journey. He actively encouraged me to get help when I was spiralling back down into full-blown depression. He may not always understand why I do and say the things I do, but he understands that I don’t always have control over my emotions. The ugly side of depression is when sufferers lash out at those closest to them. Their partner often takes a bit of an emotional beating, which can be damaging if they don’t know why it’s happening.
Have you seen a shift in how people talk about mental health?
Definitely. It’s finally being recognised as an illness by more than just the medical fraternity. More people are understanding the link between trauma and depression. As more of us living with it speak up, others are realising they’re not alone and that they don’t need to suffer in silence. I think there’s more acceptance and compassion. Some of the older generations still struggle with the concept, even though they themselves may be sufferers; however, it’s getting a valid place at the table.
What’re some of the biggest misconceptions about mental health?
If you’re a happy person, you can’t be depressed. That getting out in nature will somehow magically cure you. That you can think positive thoughts and your depression will go away. The list is endless. But one of the biggest misconceptions is that help can only be provided by a psychiatrist. This isn’t true because a good GP who understands your medical history is perfectly capable of supplying good treatment and prescribing the right medication. Only if this doesn’t work do they need to refer you to a more specialised practitioner. This misconception often keeps people who desperately need care from getting it because it makes them think they don’t have the resources to access psychiatrists.
How are you able to stay so up-beat and optimistic, despite your challenges?
I’m lucky to have a good support system in my husband, my close circle of friends and long-standing co-workers. I know I have a wonderful life, by most standards, so I try to focus on that when the haze sets in. I’ve learnt to enjoy downtime and focus on myself.
Who still needs to join the conversation?
A lot of my answers come from a place of privilege, and I’m aware of that. I have access to good medical care, but the vast majority of people who live in South Africa don’t, and waiting lists for psychiatric and psychological care are unfeasibly long. I think the government needs to relook at this particular aspect of the system and find a way to make it more accessible to those who can’t afford instantaneous, private care because when it comes to mental health, delays can be deadly.
For more information, visit sadag.org
If you need to speak to a councillor, call the toll-free helpline on 0800 456 789