A 60-YEAR-OLD Johannesburg woman gives us a glimpse of what it's like to live with two stigmatising mental disorders.

"I'm Desi Burton. I suffer from two mental illnesses. I have OCD, which is obsessive compulsive disorder, and major depression," she says.

OCD is a mental disorder where people feel trapped by intrusive thoughts that compel them to perform routines to help relieve anxiety caused by their irrational fears.

"I would walk around my car 152 to 200 times checking and re-checking to make sure the doors were locked. If I was interrupted for some reason, I would have to start all over again, checking and counting. I was paralysed with anxiety," says Burton.

Psychiatrist Dr Frans Korb explains this anxiety disorder.

"Obsessions are the excessive worries of things going wrong if they (patients) don't do certain things. The compulsions are the irrational behaviours. For instance, developing a fear for germs and then do the compulsive hand-washing," he says.

As Burton's anxieties got worse she began finding comfort in food while slowly slipping into depression.

"I'm a comfort eater," she says. "Some people, when they are stressed or anxious, stop eating. Some people, when they are stressed and anxious, eat. And I eat. I was so stressed and afraid of everything I couldn't sleep and I would have very fitful nights and wake up exhausted in the morning and not be able to get out of bed. That's a symptom of depression."

Burton was aware from an early age that she could not cope very well, unlike her peers, but had no idea that she had a mental illness.

"I probably have had depression since I was little. On both sides of my family there have been suicides. It's a chronic illness. You deal with it every day and the medication makes a big difference. But the OCD and the depression together are disastrous," she says sadly.

Dr Frans Korb, concurs that Burton could have been pre-disposed to mental illness.

"There is a genetic component, as with all psychiatric disorders," he says. - Health-eNews