Mental Health Advocate: A Nigerian woman aims to raise public's awareness on mental illnesses
Updated 08:22, 13-Nov-2018
Mental health is one subject that is hardly discussed in public or regarded as a serious health challenge in Nigeria. But one young Nigerian woman is on a mission to change that and somehow, she is making huge headway. CGTN's Deji Badmus has more details.
At just 26, she is Nigeria's youngest mental health Coach. Her organization, SheWritesWoman, is dedicated to creating awareness about mental health and provide vital help for victims of a problem people on this part of the world know little about and choose to silent on.
HAUWA OJEIFO, FOUNDER SHEWRITESWOMAN "SheWritesWoman, I like to say, is a movement. It's a movement about of love, hope and support for women in particular, who live in one form of emotional, behavioral or psychological challenge. And what we are doing essentially is trying to normalize the conversation around mental heal and take back the already misinformed narrative mental health in the society."
Her entire work and life as a mental health Coach stems from her own personal experience.
HAUWA OJEIFO, FOUNDER SHEWRITESWOMAN "What I realized, for much of my life, was that I used to have these extreme highs and extreme lows. But people would usually say oh she has mood swings. That is how she is. That's just her personality. That's just who she is. And I used to take it. But I always felt they were certain times I was trapped in myself."
In addition to the extremes, Hauwa suffered sexual and physical abuse. And at some stage, attempted to commit suicide. She later sought help at a psychiatric facility where was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
HAUWA OJEIFO, FOUNDER SHEWRITESWOMAN "Getting that diagnoses, rather than being in denial for me, was closure because I was like finally, I get that there is something wrong and I realized the importance of community support and speaking out and making feel that it's ok to talk. And it was that need, that is part of SheWritesWoman. The need to express and be myself regardless of all that had happened to me in the past or all I was going through to just be empowered to be me and have that sense of self-acceptance. So I started SheWriteswoman purely from therapeutic point of view but it grew and I attracted other women."
Today, with her SheWritesWoman Organisation, Hauwa has become a vital voice in the fight against mental health, helping to tackle the stigma associated with it and assist victims to recover. From 2016, when she set up her organisation, Hauwa says she's been able to impact 125,000 persons indirectly.
HAUWA OJEIFO, FOUNDER SHEWRITESWOMAN "In terms of direct impact, we quantify that in terms of three key initiatives that we have with the first being our health line, which we have received over 600 calls from and we have averted over 60 cases of obvious suicide. Because we are based in Lagos, a lot of our calls are coming from Lagos. But we have also seen calls from about 20 other States in Nigeria. We have seen from South Africa, Tanzania. We have received from UK and US and even Canada as well. We talk about our support group, which is our flagship initiative, which is called Safe Place. It's a monthly support group where we bring in women together and offer them some sort of therapy and accountability system and a ready made support system because we know the complexities of living with mental health in Nigeria."
Hauwa has received quite a number of awards for her work. In June this year, she was one of three Nigerians presented with the prestigious Queens Young Leaders Award by Queen Elizabeth the second.
HAUWA OJEIFO, FOUNDER SHEWRITESWOMAN "It was such a surreal moment because it felt like, in that moment, every single thing that had happened just right to get me to that moment and it was such a big deal because it literally put mental health on the front stage, on this big platform, where we can amplify the voices of people who are living with mental health challenges."
Hauwa still plans big things with her advocacy on mental health. She is already collaborating with other partners to set up Nigeria's first toll-free mental health helpline. And she believes the narrative on mental health is now changing in Nigeria.
HAUWA OJEIFO, FOUNDER SHEWRITESWOMAN "I believe what we have laid the ground for and how, not just about mental health advocacy but how we do what we do, has had such a tremendous impact on how people talk about mental health. On how people view hope for people living with mental health challenges and how people now view the mental health story."