Many black people think stress is something that only affects white people. Some even laugh at those who say they are stressed, saying: “You have a white person’s condition.”
President Jacob Zuma is one of those people. During an interview with Putco Mafani on Umhlobo Wenene’s morning radio show, Breakfast Eyondlayo Ekuseni, he reportedly said: “If you pay attention to all these things, you may get this white sickness called stress. I don’t know stress. There’s no word for stress in Zulu.”
Indeed, there is no isiZulu word for stress, but psychologists say black people are not immune to it.
Dr Mzikazi Nduna, an associate professor of psychology at Wits, says the perception that stress is a “white condition” is common among black people. She says people need to move away from this belief because it prevents others from seeking help.
“Black people, like whites, have emotions and we know that stress is an emotional response to external events. My experience has taught me that black people face more adverse events than white people and because of that, they are more stressed than their counterparts,” she explains.
Dr Trish van Zyl, a psychiatrist in Joburg who specialises in working with children, adolescents and families, agrees. She says: “Black people are as stressed as white people, if not worse.”
She gave an example of a young single mother who earns barely enough to put food on the table for her two children. “This mother needs to send her children to school, pay utilities and ensure that she raises them in a happy home.
“Obviously, she would be out of her wits thinking about how she was going to make ends meet,” she says.
“I am not saying that white people don’t experience similar problems, but it is more common among black people because they often earn far less and they have to support extended families.”
Both psychologists agree that more needs to be done to educate black people about stress and the dangers of not dealing with it effectively.