Sodipe Oluwakemi: On Mental Health Awareness And Education In Nigeria

When you suffer from a mental illness, you may not realize it because we often think that it is just us. I am also of the view that as a country and as individuals, Nigerians can be more mentally healthy and this can only happen through awareness. In a conversation with Sodipe Oluwakemi, a lawyer, mental health advocate, and one of the brains behind Anti Suicided And Depression Squad (ASADS), she talks about her struggles, the level of mental health awareness in Nigeria and how individuals and Government can help.

Q:Who is Sodipe Oluwakemi?

Kemi: Oluwakemi is a lot of things. I am a lawyer but still trying to figure out my life. I am also a mental health advocate. I am a blood donation advocate. I also love Humanitarian work. Finally, I love talking and watching movies and want to travel the world someday. 


Q:So let’s talk about meant health. What inspired you to become a mental health advocate?

Kemi: Young people only learn about mental health after suffering from it themselves because the education on it is so low. The first thing that inspired me to learn about it is my friend who has a mental health issue, and he has psychosis. He is a Doctor as well.

I want to understand him better and see how I can help those around me with mental health. I also want to spread education on mental health because most people don’t know these things. There was a time I got depressed along the way, but I am getting better. 

Q:What are the things that helped you through it?

Kemi: I am not over it yet, but I am getting better. The first thing I did was write down reasons I shouldn’t be on earth again and why I should be. I had only one reason to be on earth, which was strong enough to pull me through, and that reason is my mum; she is always rooting for me. 

So I will say people should try to be nice to their loved ones because you have no idea what they are going through, and you might be why they haven’t given up. I also started consciously doing things that make me happy. I joined a mental health organization, and here I am.

Q: You have come a long way!

Kemi: Thank you. 


Q: You said earlier that Nigeria’s level of education and awareness of mental health is very low. Can you explain that?

Kemi: Most people don’t know about mental health. I only learned about it because I had a friend going through it and have also experienced it. So how are you supposed to heal from what you don’t know? I honestly think mental health education should be in our curriculum because it will worsen the situation when people discover it when experiencing it. 

Q: I have heard people say as a good Christian or Muslim, you shouldn’t be experiencing issues psycologically. Do you think culture and religion have major impacts on mental health awareness?

Kemi: They are extremists, the Christians and Muslims who, instead of getting professional help, will go on marathon prayer. No doubt I believe so much in God, but I also believe that God will not come down to change a situation, he will send people.

Religion has really had a major impact on mental health. For example, they think of you as less of a Christian or weak if you come out that you have mental health issues. So instead of talking out and seeking help, they bottle it all up and live with it or die with it. 

Q: What should be done instead?

Kemi: Society and religious leaders should encourage people to talk out, and they shouldn’t be praying over what God has put professionals in our midst and has given the therapist d knowledge needed. They should stop saying God forbid and allow treatment. 

Q: So, what are the other barriers to the awareness apart from culture and religion?

Kemi: The society at large. Schools. Children spend most of their lives in school, and it is not taught there; that is a big deal if you ask me. 

Family members also don’t take mental health issues seriously. They sometimes think children and young people are doing it just for attention or they are throwing a tantrum, so instead of speaking up, they keep their struggles to themselves. 


Q: So, mental health, just like sex education and self-defence, should be included in school curriculums?

Kemi: Yes, it should be included. The world keeps evolving, and new problems keep coming up. Let’s start tackling it from the grassroots. The earlier people understand an issue, the easier it is to solve when the need arises. 

Q: Are there ways to know when someone is struggling mentally?

Kemi: Yes. People struggling mentally tend to withdraw to their shells, stop doing things that once make them happy, talk about suicide, and start hearing voices (Psychosis and PTSD symptoms). At the same time, some act to be all fine and good but are struggling mentally.

These are the ones that most take their lives because people don’t suspect a thing. But when you pay attention to the tiniest hint, you will see these are suicidal or depressed. 



Q: How does ASADS reach out to people?

Kemi: We organize trainings where we train people on mental health from time to time. We also organize a support group where people with the same issues come together and a mental health professional talks to them. Another way we reach out to people is through the ASADS tour. We have this at least twice a year. We take mental health to the communities, schools and even places of worship. 


Q: How can individuals and the government help increase mental health awareness in Nigeria?

Kemi: Individuals can help by taking the awareness seriously. Everyone should see it as an important thing. We should all understand it and talk about it. Something as basic as talking to your friends, family and colleagues about it goes a long way. If more people talked about it, the stigma would reduce, and people will feel comfortable speaking up when facing challenges.

Employers should be concerned about their employee’s mental health, parents should be concerned about their children’s mental health, friends should be concerned, and everyone should care about each oyster. The Government can help by making mental health policies and providing easy access to getting help. They should also include mental health in our school curriculum. 

Q: Finally, what are some practices you would advise people to practice in their daily lives to boost their mental health?

Kemi: Speak positively. Look in the mirror and say words of affirmation to yourself every day. Believe in yourself fiercely. Work on yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally; exercise daily. It might even be something as basic as taking a walk. Read books. Do things that make you happy. And always remember that you are not a mistake, you can do this, and life is worth living. 

Q: How can people reach out to ASADS if they need help or want to volunteer?

Kemi: You can reach us through all our social media platforms. We are @asads.ei on Instagram and and @Asads_eiTwitter. We post calls for volunteers here from time to time too. 

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