When Nonzukiso Dibela (34) of Town 2, Cape Town, was first diagnosed with schizophrenia, her world was turned upside down. But her life became a nightmare long before her diagnosis.
Living in a rural area she had a fears about how people would react. On several occasions she had heard of stories of people living with schizophrenia being attacked and killed by mobs.
“This all happened in 2016, and I was working at a call centre at the time, and I first thought it was work stress since I would cry and switch to zero mood out of nowhere, and from there I started hearing voices, some of which were telling me to go and stay under the bridge.”
Dibela’s schizophrenia led to the loss of close friends and some family members.
‘I did not know what was real’
According to Different Brains, schizophrenia is a mood disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and acts.
“It all started with me noticing strange things happening, I saw things that other people didn’t. My life became a nightmare when I heard things that no one else did. I was afraid to leave my house,” she says.
Her symptoms got worse when she was in a space with too many people.
“My chest would suddenly feel tight and my heart would beat fast, I would sweat and tremble, and my voice would just vanish. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder; later, I was also diagnosed with an eating disorder and bipolar disorder.”
Like depression and bipolar disorder, schizophrenia can be managed with medication, says Cape Town clinical psychologist Banetsi Mphunga. “Schizophrenia requires long-term treatment, with hallucinations in between.”
He further explains that schizophrenia is often characterised with being “out of touch” with reality.
“Even people suffering from depression may find themselves talking to themselves, at which point they have lost touch with reality. Which is why common mental health conditions such as depression are commonly controlled, but schizophrenia requires long-term treatment.”
Because schizophernia is a chronic condition, he believes long-term treatment is required to control the situation rather than to cure it, and it takes time to figure out which medicine is best for each patient.
Dibela has taken different medication over the years to help her control her condition – from medication for depression to others to control the hallucinations.
Protecting and supporting the mentally ill
Governments need to do a better job at protecting the mentally ill in Mzansi, says Zintle Khobeni, the founder and chairwoman of The Great People of South Africa.
“I’ve seen and heard worse while working with people who face various social challenges. As a result, I believe we definitely need more societal engagement on the matter, and the government also has a responsibility to provide not just information but resources, particularly to the departments of health and social development, in order to efficiently manage the lives of those suffering from mental illness.”
Despite Dibela’s best efforts, she is unable to go out or participate in social activities because she is continuously afraid of recurrence of episodes.
However, she says she wouldn’t be where she is today if it weren’t for her sister and her children’s support and encouragement.
Even though some people still fear her, only a small percentage of the population is aware of the seriousness of schizophrenia. So for now, all Dibela can hope for is that people become more sensitive to the plight of those living with a mental condition and give them the support they need.
If you or a family member suffer from mental illness, there is help available. The South African Federation for Mental Health has a list of organisations and helplines you can call.