Friday’s shocking suicide of a man egged on by an unsympathetic crowd has brought to the fore concerns of the growing stigma, and lack of empathy suffered by those with mental illness. The incident, which took place in the heart of the Johannesburg CBD, has yielded much criticism for the ‘mob mentality’ shown by the crowd, who relentlessly chanted for the man to jump from the 5th floor of a building.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), who have actively promoted awareness surrounding mental illness, said it was sad to see a crowd showing such a lack of concern for an individual who was essentially helpless. Spokesperson, Meryl Da Costa expressed dismay that after 20 years of working towards working towards breaking the stigma of depression, such incidents were still occurring.
“It is incredibly sad and disappointing, and shows that we have so much more work to do in order to really break the stigma around mental illness,” she said.
She stressed that this proved the stigma was still rife, and that many still assumed mental illness to be an issue suffered by those who were “crazy”. There was also a common misconception that those driven to the point of suicide were selfish and cowardly. However, she believed this was not the case and that such perceptions needed to be urgently addressed.
“When you are chanting and egging someone on who is clearly suicidal and ill, you go on and carry on with your life, but their family will now be left devastated,” she said.
In the case of Friday’s incident, Da Costa said it was obvious that whilst the man was desperate enough to take his own life, the fact that he had spent a considerable amount of time on the roof meant that there had been some hope for intervention.
“What SADAG would hope to see in the future is instead of a group gathering and chanting, someone will intervene and contact emergency services. Maybe that was a call for help, and we could have been able to save him and prevent him from ending his life. Unfortunately with suicide, we will never know,” she said.
She urged those who suspected a loved who of harboring suicidal thoughts, to urgently get them help as soon as possible.
According to SADAG, depression and mental illness affects 1 in every 3 South Africans.
Anyone looking for assistance may contact SADAG’s tollfree hotline at 0800 567 567. Alternatively, you can sms them at 31393, and the organization will immediately call you back. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)