OFTEN ISOLATED by their communities, many people who live with albinism suffer in silence as life becomes unbearable.
The dehumanisation of people living with albinism, especially in many sub-Saharan societies, leads to severe depression – often with terrible consequences.
Globally, depression is a serious mental health disorder that affects people from all walks of life. Severe cases of depression can lead to suicide, which the World Health Organisation lists as the fourth leading cause of death for people aged between 15 and 29.
Sabelo Gumede, a psychologist based in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, believes that people with albinism need all the care and support they can get – and that starts with changing society’s understanding of what albinism is. People with this genetic condition lack melanin, which leads to a lack of colour pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. They battle with their vision and are at risk of developing skin cancer.
Gumede says the main causes of mental health difficulties in people with albinism are discrimination and bullying. If not addressed, this can lead to psychological difficulties, such as depression, anxiety attacks and episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“People living with albinism often feel isolated, especially as a direct result of social stigmatisation. This tends to be more prevalent in townships and rural areas.”
Signs of depression are isolation, poor inter-personal relationships, poor hygiene, a lack of concentration, slowness and suicidal thoughts.
Gumede says people with albinism can seek help from a private psychologist, ask their local clinic for help or reach out to an organisation that assists people with depression.
Since people with albinism live within the community, just like everyone else, friends and family should keep an eye on them and ensure they get professional help if needed.
Government and non-governmental organisations can play a crucial role in combating hate and discrimination against people with albinism through awareness and education. campaigns, particularly in rural areas, because that is where violence against people with albinism is often reported.
These organisations can support people living with albinism who are depressed or feel isolated:
Akeso Crisis Helpline
0861 435 787
Albinism Society of South Africa
011 838 6529
South African Depression and Anxiety Helpline
0800 567 567