In his latest series, “The Great African Horror Story”, Cape Town-based photographer Thembela “Nymless” Ngayi addresses depression in African men. In many African communities, depression and mental health issues are viewed as an invention of the Western (i.e. white) world. “I used to think depression was a fictional condition that people used as an excuse to get out of work. I remember when my friend told me that she’d been diagnosed with clinical depression and I dismissed her for seeking attention,” explains Ngayi.
In this context, calling out your depression is thought to be an excuse for weakness or attention-seeking. Instead of honestly tackling the realities of depression, African men and women are left to sort it out on their own. “I realized how wrong I was when personally suffered from minor depression, growing up it was never a topic I explored. In the hood, whenever we saw someone going “crazy” on the street, the first assumption is that they’re on drugs. When one of my peers committed suicide in 2002, the community was quick to say that he was “bewitched” because he was a straight A student and he set a great example. No one knew he suffered from depression!”
“The Great African Horror” series aims to bring awareness to the realities of mental health issues in African communities and to explore how it directly impacts those closest to us. “The woman represents the man’s only support structure throughout his depression. She is greatly affected by the depression and eventually becomes a victim as she is also not equipped to help the man deal with it. She also represents “society” which can become the catalyst for a person’s depression. Society often turns a blind eye to the condition, hence, in some of the images she seems as though she doesn’t notice his suffering,” Ngayi tells AFROPUNK.