BY WINSTONE ANTONIO
POPULAR Bulawayo-based modelling guru and Strides Modelling Agency founder, Sipho Mazibuko has revealed that pressure around her once popular Miss Rural Zimbabwe helped trigger the bipolar disorder that has haunted her.
The disorder, associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs, saw the former Miss Bulawayo being temporarily interned at Ingutsheni Hospital, a mental institution in Bulawayo.
In a wide-ranging interview with NewsDay Life & Style, Mazibuko said she had established Mental Voices Trust to raise awareness on mental health issues.
“I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about 11 years ago and I was doing Miss Rural Zimbabwe at that time. I was admitted at Ingutsheni Central Hospital in Bulawayo for about a month and two weeks,” she said.
“There was so much pressure going around the country and there was no sponsorship, I had to sponsor it from my business. The little sponsorship I got did not go a long way, so I was under pressure.”
She added: “There was just too much pressure for me and I was also young. Because of that pressure and negative publicity, my husband also divorced me, that was the final straw, I crushed.”
Mazibuko said stigmatisation and rejection in society disturbed her social life.
“Mostly on my part, my plight was publicised in almost all the newspapers and people were laughing at me that I was crazy and mad. I, therefore, realised that people need to be educated on mental health disorders issues because it can happen to anyone and that it’s ok not to be ok,” she said.
“Having a nervous breakdown is really hard and not easy, because people don’t want to be next to you, nobody wants to be with somebody with depression. In society and African culture depression is considered to be madness and nobody wants to be with a mad woman.”
“I would call a friend, to say I am out of hospital and they would say, no Sipho I will talk to you some other time I am busy, call another one the same thing and you call a family member, they will say I will come and it never happened, so the stigmatisation was bad and too much.”
“So, as a result, I lost a lot of friends, family members whom I thought were very close to me, nobody wanted to be with me, but however, I gained a few friends who understood that mental health is just any other illness like blood pressure or diabetes.”
Mazibuko said she was committed to make a difference in raising awareness on mental health.
“So, through the Mental Voices Trust I want to educate the people on the symptoms of mental health disorders as well as teaching them how to identify and accept other family members who are suffering from depression and other mental health disorders,” she said.
“Socially, I had a business in Bulawayo and some people did not want to come and shop at my boutique because they did not want to be seen to be associated with a mad woman.”
Mazibuko said people should not be in denial when faced with mental health issues.
“At first, I was in denial when my family told me that Sipho you are too hyper, you have to go to hospital, I said no, this can’t happen to me, I am a former beauty queen, it cannot happen to me, but it happened to me and I had to accept,” she said.
Mazibuko added: “Men would know that they have symptoms of depression or any other mental health disorder symptoms, but they choose to be macho about it, they don’t want to talk about it, they would rather push it under the bed or closet.
“Through denial, you don’t want to accept, and at the same time it takes you longer to heal, sooner is the better to go and seek physiological help. If you don’t want to go to a psychiatric hospital, you go to physiologists for counselling and you have to take out the burden from your shoulders by talking to them.
“The psychiatric is on the medical side, but some people don’t need this medication at all they just need physiological support.
“In my case, I needed medication because I completely crashed, I had a full nervous breakdown so I was referred to psychiatric.
“I was given my medication, I am still taking my medication and I will continue taking my medication until I die, if I default, I could have another breakdown and go to square zero again and I don’t want that to happen.
“I have a family, I have children to look after, they can’t be having their mother in and out of Ingutsheni, they need me, my business needs me, my employees need me.”
Mazibuko who is now working with Ingutsheni on rehabilitation programmes, said the country was lagging behind in terms of investment to fight mental health issues.
Born on May 5, 1973, Mazibuko grew up in Dekezi, Filabusi and attended Mapewume Primary School.
She relocated to Bulawayo and attended John Tallach High School and later Eveline High School.
It was at Eveline where she was crowned the inaugural Miss Teen Queen in 1992. She went on to be crowned Miss Bulawayo the following year and Miss Highlanders Football Club.
Follow Winstone on Twitter @widzoanto