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The black shadow of depression in Gomora

The honest portrayal of depression in the telenovela shows that it's difficult to control the mental anguish which might lead to suicide. And friends and family often can't detect it
Thu, Oct 07, 2021

TW: This article deals with issues of depression, anxiety and suicide ideation

Last September, Gomora’s Buhle (Ama Qamata) took a handful of pills and tried to end her life.

This came after a nude she sent to her boyfriend made its way onto the internet, resulting in a week-long high school scandal and multiple instances of slut-shaming. While Buhle pens her suicide note, she imagines the voice of her mother expressing her disappointment that she sent someone a sexually suggestive picture.

"What got into you to make you take pictures naked? What will Gladys and Melusi think of me? They already think less of you, Buhle. Now you do this?" her mother says.

The suicide note itself is a short but heart-rending letter which sees Buhle apologising for "disappointing" her family, while sharing her deepest anxieties about her increasingly hostile family situation (her father had recently been murdered).

"I'm sorry I had to leave like this, but I can't stand against the internet and the men of Alex alone. I can't live my life being called a porn star and all those other names people keep calling me. I think it's time I go join my father," she writes.

Luckily, Buhle's attempted suicide is foiled by her friends.

October is Mental Health Awareness Month and something about that particular episode and subplot of Gomora feels strangely vital.

Although the conclusion of that subplot felt ham-fisted and anticlimactic (Buhle's mother shipped her off to another school after the attempt), it still feels like an honest portrait into the long, black shadow of depression and the lengths people will go to calm the noise inside their head.

There had been no indication before the attempted suicide that Buhle was preparing to take her life. Because the viewers have an omniscient view and are privy to the interior of TV characters' emotions, we were able to peek into Buhle's declining mental state.

But, as in real life, her friends and family were not so lucky. Her mother was too invested in managing the fallout that resulted from the furore. During this time, her anxiety heightened and she often wondered whether people thought less of her because they had seen her semi-naked. The culmination of this truth takes place when a man undresses her with his eyes while she's walking down the street.

He knows. Gomora knows. Everybody knows.

In this subplot, Gomora offered us a diorama of the mental anguish that precedes a suicide attempt.

There was the initial self-bargaining which saw Buhle thinking the "scandal" might blow over quickly. When that didn't happen, all that was left was planning and execution. All of this happened with no suspicion from her loved ones.

The fact that Buhle survives her attempt is functionally immaterial to one of the bigger messages being communicated through the storyline. Depression casts a long penumbra over those affected by it. And when that long, black cloud lengthens, there is often very little indication that the rain is about to pour. In Buhle's case, the storm did not wash her away.

Others are not so lucky.