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By Devina Haripersad

Senior Business/Finance journalist

What I learnt from a haunted psychiatric hospital where I stayed for two weeks

Something has gone seriously wrong with our generation that we are seeing many of us feeling hopeless.

It was room 5 at the psychiatric hospital out in the middle of nowhere that we heard the ear piecing screams coming from. I was so heavily drugged, I didn’t know if I was dreaming or if the terrifying sounds were real.

It was only after I saw the room’s occupants – a young doctor suffering from serious burnout and her roommate, a highly-strung accountant – exit the room in a hurry, still dressed in their pyjamas, that I realised the sounds were most probably real.

They were both hysterical, insisting that there was something paranormal in their sleeping space.

ALSO READ: Depressed SA: Mental illness costing the nation around R161bn a year

Stress disorder

I arrived at the psychiatric hospital out in the wilderness, just on the outskirts of Lanseria, on a Wednesday afternoon.

Like the doctor and the accountant, I was suffering from a stress disorder.

GIF credit: Tenor

I spent the first two days highly sedated, unable to tell reality from my dreams anymore. So when the shrill screams pierced through that dark night on the third day, I questioned my own sanity.

“I am NOT going back in there. You better find us another bed!” the young doctor insisted to the nurses, who just stared at each other with concern.

It was going to be quite a mission to find the two now sleepless patients new beds.

The ward was actually quite full. That was no surprise given that the South Africa Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) recently revealed that one in three South Africans either currently struggle or have struggled with mental illness.

I looked at the patients who were now popping out of their rooms to see the commotion. Most of them were millennial professionals.

At this point, I realised something has gone seriously wrong with our generation that we are seeing so many of us feeling hopeless.

But why?

Could it be the economy? The fact that we lost such a great deal of our generation of mentors to Covid? Load shedding? Cost of living? The culture of non-comittment? The pressures to be fit and healthy, financially successful and have a constant flow of envy-worthy content for social media?

I heard the high-pitched cry again. There was no denying the paranormal activity now. The nurses quickly closed the door and ushered the two patients away.

Another nurse came up to me, and taking me by the arm, she also ushered me back into my bed. I didn’t put up much of a fight after that.

GIF credit: Tenor


By morning we learnt that a young woman – an occupant of the hospital in years prior – had killed herself in room 5.

According to the patient who had spoken to an actual caretaker of the hospital, the girl was so deeply depressed, she had tried to commit suicide before and when she had not succeeded, she tried it again on the hospital premises.

How true this was, I did not know. But it got me thinking. If she was so depressed and so desperately wanted to escape that depression, why was she still out here screaming in what seemed like pain?

Mental health

At this point I realised how important it was to take care of one’s mental health as death, it seemed, didn’t always promise relief or escape from the illness. If anything, it seemed as mental illness trapped one in a space in the afterlife.

When I met Dr Mosima Mabunda, Head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery, a few months back, it seemed like all she did was try promote the idea of taking care of one’s mental health. I could now understand why.

As the days passed and we were forced to attend group therapy sessions, or lectures if you will, they seemed to be teaching us some pretty basic stuff. How to manage your time. How to create good sleeping habits. How not to rely on substances to get us by.

ALSO READ: Load shedding leading to anxiety and depression which can be fatal, say psychologists

Without knowing it, so many of us are just living life through a simple but seemingly effective chemical romance. Sleeping pills to sleep, coffee to stay awake, energy drinks for that boost of energy, paracetamol to make the headache from it all go away.

GIF Credit: Tenor

Somehow, somewhere we had unwittingly bartered away our mental equilibrium for the illusion of more time, more money, and more worldly pursuits.

 In the echoes of that haunted night, I understood the gravity of Dr Mabunda’s mission—to break the shackles that bind us to a relentless pursuit of worldly success at the expense of our mental serenity.

The haunting of room 5, in its paradoxical nature, became a catalyst for our collective awakening—a stark reminder that our well-being extends beyond the temporal confines of our earthly existence.

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