DURBAN - WEDNESDAY is Bipolar Awareness Day in South Africa, and the Daily News spoke to Dr Samukelisiwe Ngcobo, who has undertaken a journey to fight the stigma around the mental illness.
Ngcobo was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two decades ago. “Like a soldier in combat in a war zone, I have battle wounds and scars as a result of my illness. These scars mark victory as they bear witness to my presence in the battle and bear testimony to my survival time and again,” said Ngcobo.
She refers to her journey as an “emotional see-saw”.
“These polar opposite roles which exist within me, mimic the contrasting emotional ranges of my mental illness. The highs are thrilling, and the lows are devastating. Both emotional extremes are toxic and can be lethal.”
According to Ngcobo, bipolar disorder as a mental illness is poorly understood. She has witnessed a change in attitude and behaviour by health-care workers and the community at large towards herself and others once people knew about their illness.
“It is my quest to unravel the coils of misunderstanding and ignorance through advocacy and activism on behalf of myself and those who share in my battle.”
She has established an NPO, Sisters For Mental Health, which aims to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health. The organisation also seeks to change people’s perceptions around mental illness by ensuring that mental illness is acknowledged and respected like any other disease.
Ngcobo is also the author of the book Reflections of a Convoluted Mind: A journey with my mental illness, which was inspired by her desire to create awareness and understanding of people who have mental illnesses. Ngcobo attained her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
She has 10 years of experience in the clinical field. She has served as a medical officer in the department of paediatrics at Pholosong Hospital and at Tara Hospital. She is an award-winning public speaker and placed second in the Daily News/Rotary Team Speaking Competition in 2004. She urged those with mental illnesses to “unashamedly and unapologetically own up to their mental struggles and tell their stories”.