‘Depression is not a weakness’ – moving open letter about Prof Mayosi’s death

A professor has written a moving open letter following the cardiologist's tragic suicide.

A Stellenbosch University professor and head of the university’s journalism department has penned an open letter to University of Cape Town students on the death of cardiologist and professor Bongani Mayosi, who tragically took his own life.

Professor Lizette Rabe lost her son, a promising medical student, to depression while he was in fourth year. The letter highlights that Mayosi didn’t make the decision to kill himself, and rather “was the victim of humankind’s cruellest disease”.

“As students, and especially as medical students, you will know that depression is a clinical, biological disease, and that, as with other illnesses, it can develop into a fatal, final stage,” Rabe writes.

Rabe addresses the inability of society to understand depression as an illness, saying: “We – due to sociocultural-religious reasons, and the fact that science is also still grappling with psychiatric diseases – still cannot understand that it is a cruel disease that robbed him of his life, and with it, him from you.”

“Depression is an illness, not a weakness,” she says later in the letter.

While noting how tragic Mayosi’s death was, Rabe hopes that, if one positive outcome can come from it, it would be greater awareness regarding depression.

Rabe hopes Mayosi’s suicide will be an opportunity to “educate society, especially our student community, about the importance of mental health, specifically regarding depression, a biological illness with mental and physical symptoms”.

“By keeping quiet, we perpetuate the stigma and the silence around mental diseases and, as we know too well, they too can have fatal consequences.”

Rabe also notes that depression is increasing at an alarming rate, saying: “Unesco’s World Health Organization (WHO) has identified depression as currently the third biggest disease globally.”

“By 2020 – in barely two years’ time – it predicts depression to be the second biggest, and by 2030 the biggest. It is clear that we need public awareness and public education to understand that without mental health, there can be no health,” she continues.

Rabe founded the Ithemba Foundation – ithemba means hope – to raise awareness of depression as a biological disease and to support research into depression.

The foundation is organising a hike and bike event to mark the WHO’s Mental Health Awareness Month in October. More info can be found here.

Those suffering from depression or who have friends or loved ones who are advised to contact the following organisations:

Lifeline 24 hour crisis line: 0861 322 322

SADAG helpline: 0800 567 567/ or sms 31393

World Health Organisation

SA Federation for Mental Health


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