EmaLenna Foundation tackles depression stigma through culture of story-sharing

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EmaLenna foundation. Image supplied
EmaLenna foundation. Image supplied
  • The EmaLenna Foundation was established after Neo Selebano was diagnosed with depression.
  • The foundation targets people diagnosed with depression and people who are keen to learn more about the mental illness.
  •  She is motivated to keep pushing because she does not want to be haunted by "what if" ghosts.

Depression is a very real and silent killer. Misconceptions, misunderstandings, and stigma continue to be barriers to therapy for many people, and the consequences of untreated depression can be deadly.

Through leaders like Neo Selebano from Dobsonville, depression has been destigmatised, especially in underprivileged communities.

She established the EmaLenna Foundation in March 2019, which started counselling sessions and introduced a culture in which stories are shared.

Destigmatising depression

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"We aim to become a leading anti-depression NPO (non-profit organisation) that drives change through conversation in underprivileged communities, to inspire people to speak up and not succumb to depression on their own and thus become ambassadors for EmaLenna, to become an organisation that eradicates poverty and malnutrition in previously disadvantaged communities and financially lacking."

The idea came to Neo after she was diagnosed with depression in 2016. She said she realised that people could only truly heal from depression when talking to someone.

"Many people didn't understand what was going on with me, hence I opened up a little, but it took a lot out of me. But after opening up I realised that it helps."

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"When you have depression, people distance themselves from you. Depression is a taboo in the black community, and nobody wants to be associated with somebody who says they have depression."

This is why Neo dedicated herself to helping people heal.

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Depression can take so much from a person, physically and emotionally, she said, adding that she was drained and tired.

"However, as soon as I was admitted and started drinking pills, things just started falling into place.

"But it was truly when I started talking about it that I got better."

Neo was admitted to a wellness centre, which helped her because she also received medication.

"You just start living with it, you start understanding what triggers you and understanding where the sadness comes. You also have to change your mindset, and all this can be achieved with the right people in your corner."

The foundation helps people in the community who are diagnosed with and affected by depression, and people who want to learn more about mental illness and how to fight it.

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It believes challenges are opportunities disguised as roadblocks.

Neo noted that she has faced and continues to face problems.

One of the challenges she faced during the Covid-19 pandemic was that many "companies have frozen sponsorships due to the financial burden of this pandemic".

However, she managed to touch more than 10 000 people around Soweto.


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