Young Hillbrow activist putting an end to depression stigma

We live in a very stressful world, where children have to grow up quickly in order to deal with responsibilities or tragedies that emerge in their lives. This early and sudden push to maturity may be due to the absence of parental structure, emotional support or any other vital elements that contribute to the behavior and upbringing of children.

In the absence of these crucial elements, children, more specifically teenagers may feel somewhat alone and neglected. These feelings if ignored may grow into something more serious and life threatening, such as, depression. We live within very ignorant communities whereby the topic of mental illness, such as, depression is typically perceived as the need for attention. However, this condition if neglected may become too severe and lead one to commit suicide.

Research estimates that there are at least 23 suicides committed a day in South Africa, which are taken lightly due to the stigma involved. The average suicide is 17.2 per 100 000 (8% of all deaths). However, this only relates to deaths reported by academic hospitals, the real figure is much higher. Other data shows that one in four South African teenagers have attempted suicide and one in three hospital admissions for suicide involves youth.

One young man from Johannesburg chose to take a stand and be the voice of change. Mncendi Koboka is an 18-year-old young activist from Hillbrow who has dedicated his time to raising awareness about suicide. His activism movement started in the year 2017 after his family was almost struck by tragedy and loss of a loved due to depression. Mncendi, together with his brother founded an NPO called, Young Leaders of Tomorrow with the aim of educating the community about the reality of depression and suicide. This bright young man with a heart of gold managed to borrow me some of his time.

Tell me more about Young Leaders of Tomorrow

Young Leaders of Tomorrow is an NPO I founded with my twin brother in 2017 with the aim of making change in the community and help the youth with social and domestic problems. We wanted to tackle stereotypes and issues, such as, depression and suicide, which are always seen as taboo. Depression is not always taken seriously in black communities, because sometimes it is taken as “demonic possession” or a stunt to grab attention.

However, I was highly motivated to raise awareness about these issues after my family almost experienced loss of a loved one due to severe depression. The reality of these issues became too clear and I thought of all the people in world that go through depression without support or anyone to talk to. So, I decided to break the stigma and help people open up about this topic.

(Mncedi speaking at a school)

What actions do you take to spread awareness about these issues?

We visit high schools and conduct talks about depression and suicide. We also receive stories from people that have been through depression or have attempted suicide and we post them anonymously on our page. People tend to be more comfortable and open when they see stories of real life people that have been through the same situation as them. We then connect those that are still suffering from depression with a trained counsellor who helps us free of charge. Now we want to create a short educational film about problems that are ignored within the society and how they could lead to suicide. We want to educate people and make them aware of the signs and how they can help.


What can we expect from you this year?

This year we have planned to visit to Athlone girls high school, and another high school in Dobsonville to talk to the youth. We also have a Suicide Awareness March in conjuction with the University of Wits, whereby people will be sharing their stories, experiences and behavioural experts will be shedding some light on this topic and offering advice on how to deal with these issues. Official dates are still to be announced on our Facebook page (Young Leaders of Tomorrow).


Many schools  in South Africa lack psychosocial support systems and this is one of the reasons suicide rates are high. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has been running for 12 years without any funding from the Health Department and they have managed to train a number of teachers on how to deal with depression and provided counselling containers to township schools to help them tackle depression among the youth. This is an incredible step in the right direction.The SADAG national suicide prevention helpline (0800 567 567) is open from 8am to 8pm every day of the week.

 If you are interested in learning more about signs of depression and suicidal behaviour visit the Sadag webiste on

Suicide shouldn’t be a secret, let’s speak out and save lives!


By Tebogo J. Mphatswe











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