Nichume Siwundla. Picture: Instagram

For many celebrities, dealing with depression becomes that much harder in the public eye.

With the recent suicide death of rising star and House vocalist Nichume Siwundla, the illness has been in the spotlight with many people highlighting the difficulty of living with the pain.

In May, Nichume was not so celebratory as she thanked friends, fans and family for the birthday messages sent to her. 

"A massive thank you to all the people who took their time to wish me a happy birthday. I really wasn’t looking forward to this one but all the lovely calls, texts, posts, voice notes etc made all the difference. You’ve all truly blessed me and I appreciate your efforts. I thank you and may God bless you," she wrote.

A month later she was dead.

Her death came as a shock, especially to her family.

The 27-year-old was rising in her career featuring in chart topping hits like Bhutiza, Daydreaming and Far Away alongside her record label boss Mobi Dixon.

Family members expressed their shock, adding that they still had many questions and referring to her as one of the strongest characters in their family.

Her death follows those of motswako rapper Jabulani ‘HHP’ Tsambo, actress Shoki Mokgapa and Motsweding FM’s DJ Lara Kruger who committed suicide last year.

Mental Health Speaker and  The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) spokesperson Nkini Phasha said there was a link between depression and the entertainment industry.

“The general perception is that the entertainment industry is the glitz and glamour industry that comes with fame and fortune. However, when the lights go off, it can be very lonely and sad for many entertainers.”

He added that the pressures and expectations to not only entertain but to also inspire the nation while continuing to evolve and become a more famous and richer star/ celebrity does take its toll on many entertainers.

“This coupled with the fear to fail can be very stressful with severe and far reaching consequences. Research conducted around the world, has shown that people in the entertainment industry are twice as likely to suffer from depression.”

From a psychiatry perspective, Dr Jan Chabalala said it was important to not ‘pathologize’ the industry.

“Depression affects anybody at any time and people in the industry are just as human as the rest of us. They are subjected to the same pressures, the same demands, the same frustrations. The only difference is that they are in the limelight and their actions tend to be pronounced for everybody to see.”

Chabalala added that some people could stand frustration more than others and live through it, while others simply could not.

“It depends on person to person. There is also an issue of hereditary; some people inherit depression from the womb basically from either parents who suffer from depression. They will be born with the susceptibility to develop it.”

Phasha said the entertainment industry was a demanding one, often resulting in fear of failure, substance abuse and addiction as coping mechanisms.  

“Fame does unfortunately come with its set of challenges. This may impact negatively on already existing close relationships, but may also pose a challenge to establishing meaningful new relationships as it’s hard to know if people genuinely like you or what they can benefit from your fame. This may result in a very lonely reality for many entertainers.”

Chabalala said when psychiatrists look at depression as a whole, they looked at the character, quality, duration and history of the depressed person and that then tells them if the person can be helped or needs more care through medication.

He said there was no help in telling people to ‘pull yourself together’ or underplaying another person’s issues.

“To the person suffering from depression it is a big thing. It is not just the usual sadness where you wake up and you’re not in the mood. This thing is pervasive, it takes away your ability to function. Depression is a more severe form of illness. People must look for help. There are people who understand it in its entirety and are willing and able to help.”

July marks Mental Health Awareness Month and lack of adequate resources and funding of mental disorder illness is still causing serious concern.

A memorial service for Nichume will be held at Assemblies of God in Sandton at 6pm on Wednesday.

CALL FOR HELP:

LifeLineHelpline (24hrs) 0861 322 322

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)

011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26 (8AM-8PM DAILY)

Substance AbuseLine 0800 12 13 14

Suicide Crisis Line 0800 567 567

Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline 0800 70 80 90