From being bullied to being body shamed; Miss SA Shudufhadzo opens up on dealing with mental illness


Her own battle with anxiety has made Miss SA Shudufhadzo Musida determined to help others struggling with their mental health

EVER since being crowned Miss South Africa she’s been upfront about the struggles she’s faced over the years, from being bullied and body shamed to struggling with anxiety.

All have had an effect on Shudufhadzo Musida’s emotional wellbeing and resulted in her seeking professional help.

So when her Miss SA predecessor and former Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi asked her which movement she’d start if she won the title, she didn’t think twice.

“I’d call it the mindful movement,” she replied. “Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among people between the ages of 15 and 29. So I believe that mobilising people to strive for mental health would fix so many social ills.”

Now, four months after being crowned Miss SA, the 24-year-old has been true to her word. Shudu recently launched the Mindful Mondays initiative – an online mental health movement in conjunction with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag). Its goal: to change the stigma around depression, trauma and anxiety.

Shudu would’ve preferred to do these weekly talks about mental health in front of a live audience, but because of the pandemic she decided to host them on Instagram every Monday at 7pm.

“The initiative is basically conversations with experts to educate communities about mental health and ultimately to try to destigmatise it,” she explains.

The Limpopo beauty says she proposed the initiative to Sadag last November and hasn’t looked back.

“We had to make sure we planned it properly because mental health is such

a sensitive topic. We just had to be sure we had the right guests, topics and resources for it to be educational and to really help people.

“You don’t want to get on a live platform and just start preaching and lecturing people. You want it to be as interactive as possible,” Shudu says.

SHUDU endured years of abuse as a child. When she was in Grade 3 she moved from Ha-Masia in Limpopo to Secunda in Mpumalanga and was picked on mercilessly by the other kids.

She was bullied because Venda was her mother tongue and she couldn’t speak Swati, Zulu and Ndebele, like her peers could. She could barely speak English either.

“Their words would break me down and terrify me,” she says. Things got so bad she spent most breaks sitting by herself at the back of the school where nobody could see her, weeping her eyes out.

Things carried on like this for the rest of her primary school career – but after she moved to Johannesburg in Grade 8 and enrolled at Bryanston High School, her situation improved.

Everything was okay, she says, until her matric year when her mental health problems started.

“I had a lot of stress surrounding that year, a lot of pressure and a lot of anxiety.”

Entering the modelling world didn’t help matters. “There was a time I was told I was out of proportion because I have curves and I had a lot of bodyimage issues. In the modelling industry, you get people who tell you that you aren’t skinny enough, that you should go on a cabbage diet.”

The situation threatened to spiral out of control and Shudu knew she needed help – and she isn’t afraid to speak out about it.

As many as one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety and depression, according to statistics released by the South African College of Applied Psychology. Yet many sufferers remain hesitant to seek help.

And it’s here that Shudu is proving a real role model to others. She’s upfront about the fact that she visits a therapist and says she’s now found efficient ways to deal with her mental health.

“I got into therapy to just check in with myself,” she tells us. “It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

“I’ve also decided not to be friends with anyone who treats me badly or to let anyone disrespect me. I chose to isolate myself from the people who were disrespecting me and trying to bully me. In doing so, I’ve been blessed with really amazing and genuine friends.

“So many people suffer from mental health issues in their lifetime,” she adds. “That’s why I felt it was necessary for me to make this my cause.”

Hearing others’ lockdown experiences spurred her on even more.

“People were sending me stories of how they’ve lost both parents and how they now have nothing and they just want to commit suicide.”

Shudu has a message for South Africans: “It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to seek help. It’s okay to suffer from a mental illness.

“It doesn’t make you any weaker and it’s not something to be ashamed of.”

THE pandemic has been trying for Shudu but she says celebrating the small things is helping her to cope.

“When lockdown started my therapist told me to focus on small victories. Me getting out of bed during a pandemic – that’s a victory. Me going to the kitchen to make food during a pandemic – that’s a victory. “We’re living in such unprecedented times where everything we do is difficult. We’re all facing the fact we may catch the virus or that someone we love might catch it. Then there are all the people struggling with loss and pain.”

She practises self-kindness and acknowledges her feelings if she’s not having a good day. “I’ve learnt how important it is to take time to just breathe,” Shudu says. “I have a really strong support system. My friends and family are constantly looking out for me and I Facetime them if I’m not okay.”

Armed with this support and her own steely resolve, Shudu – who has an honours degree in international relations – says she’s ready to tackle 2021 and has a few projects in the pipeline she can’t wait to share when the time comes.

Shudu, who says being Miss SA has been a “very beautiful, life-changing experience”, is now preparing for the prestigious Miss World pageant which will be held in Brazil this August – pandemic permitting.

“Mindful Mondays is one of the preparations. It’s my beauty-with-a-purpose project for Miss World.”

Being Miss SA is a high-pressure job at times, but Shudu says she’s been coping with the demands of the title well.

“I’m surrounded by people and an organisation who respect my mental health. I’m blessed to be in a space where I have others who look out for me. Where I’m not just Miss South Africa but a human being too.”

– You

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