Mental health awareness: Zoleka Mandela uses her voice, so others don’t feel alone

Zoleka Mandela, granddaughter to Nelson Mandela has never shied away from openly discussing her challenges with mental health, and loss

Zoleka Mandela, granddaughter to South Africa’s most loved anti-apartheid icons Nelson and Winnie Mandela has never shied away from openly discussing her challenges with mental health, and loss – often sharing intimate details about her life on her social media platforms to her more than 500 000 followers or in her book, When Hope Whispers.  

As a two-time cancer survivor, author, activist, and columnist, Zoleka is set on changing perceptions by initiating honest conversations around mental health issues to promote the Nestlé Cremora Joy of Inclusion #EveryonesIncluded narrative and to normalise and encourage people to realise that inclusivity is a joint responsibility. Zoleka believes that through her story many people will be more aware of how negative attitudes can force people into isolation and silence.

She hopes that her story will encourage positivity while driving a bigger inclusive circle.

Zoleka shares the journey she has travelled and what she has learnt along her path of recovery.

  1. Depression, cancer, and loss are all very important and difficult topics – have you found them to be quite taboo in our society and have you experienced pushback from friends and family on your willingness to address them head-on?

“Of course, these are subjects that are still shrouded with so much discrimination and stigma. From my experience, there is nothing worse than feeling like you don’t have a voice, and that no one understands you. Feeling alone only worsens an illness like depression which is already very isolating.”

  1. Why have you chosen to be so transparent? 

“When I think about what I have gone through, what sticks out the most for me is how lonely it has been, even as someone coming from a very large family. I wanted to remind people that they shouldn’t feel alone. There is someone out there going through exactly what ‘you’ are going through. I was only diagnosed with depression in 2010, shortly after my daughter’s death. But, with my current understanding of depression, I realised that I had been living with depression for a very long time – very well into my teenage years. I want to be a beacon of hope for people on my social media pages and share my cautionary tales.”

  1. Does openness also help you cope? 

“Absolutely! It’s about being honest with myself and being okay with every single aspect of my life. There were so many things in my life that were not my fault and for a very long time I blamed myself – the physical and sexual abuse for example. Even when I think of not being able to breastfeed my children because of breast cancer. These are some of the things that I have had to deal with in therapy and be okay with. I’ve had to learn to be comfortable in my own skin. In my case, it has also come with age. Having to look at yourself in the mirror and every aspect of yourself – even those parts that you don’t like about yourself – which is something I do a lot of in therapy. These are things that you must work through as an individual. I take these things very seriously because I understand that to be the mother that I want to be to my kids, I must look after myself too.”

  1. What does the joy of inclusion mean to you?  

“It’s about empowering people regardless of their differences and celebrating people for who they are and not what they are. People need to learn to be more compassionate and more understanding. Mental health is a very serious illness and it’s not something you should be ashamed of its not your fault and things can get better with the right treatment. That is a world filled with inclusivity and through a more inclusive society we are bound to become joyful internally and externally.”

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