Ms. Chioma Nwosu, a bipolar disorder survivor and founder, Olamma Cares Foundation, an NGO focused on addressing mental health challenges in Nigeria, speaks to TOYIN BUSARI on the 2020 World Mental Health Day and other issues regarding mental health
What are the objectives of your NGO, Olamma Cares Foundation?
Olamma Cares Foundation was established in 2017. It is focused on raising awareness for mental health. We also encourage social acceptance of people living with mental health conditions. We have trained many mental health first aiders. We have an outpatient therapy centre in Surulere, Lagos. It is in partnership with Joy Inc. It is called Joy Hub. It is a place where people can walk in and get outpatient therapy.
We are in partnership with a lot of mental health specialists. We have therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists who work with us. Aside from helping through our trained mental health first aiders, when we have people who need therapy, we offer therapy free through the specialists in our therapy centre. We try to ensure people get the help they need.
Aside from that, we run a 24-7 helpline. So people can call our helpline anytime they need help and there is always somebody to talk to. We also have an online live chat on our website for people who don’t want to speak on the phone; they can always chat with us.
We also have anonymous mental health forums and hold support group meetings bi-monthly, where we discuss mental health topics. We are also working on a mental health show called Unbroken. We shall be speaking about a lot of mental health issues on the show.
We are trying to develop the biggest mental health directory in Nigeria. We have about 40 mental health contacts so far on our website. They are contacts of mental health hospitals, facilities and NGOs. We are trying to build a big national database for mental healthcare so that people know where to go for help in the country. Those are the things we have done and also planning to do.
What prompted the establishment of Olamma Cares Foundation?
Olamma Cares started as an organisation for people living with autism. We still have autism programmes till date, because technically, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders stated that autism is a mental health condition. The thing with autism is that children or individuals who have it also develop mental health conditions.
Eventually, after running an organisation on autism for a year, we found out that some of the parents were going through mental health issues. We had an incident where a mother came in one day and was so sad. She said she needed an advocate or a human rights lawyer as her in-law was calling her a witch because of her child’s autism.
It was at that point that a lot of the parents started telling us how they were going through depression and anxiety because of their children’s conditions.
That spurred us to start a mental health arm of the organisation. We also found out that there were lots of NGOs doing well to deal with autism and that we didn’t necessarily have to do what others were doing. That was how we branched into mental health.
After attending to the mothers, I also had my episode where I had my first panic attack. The people around me were confused. They had expected me to be the one that had it all together.
I was first diagnosed with clinical depression and when my symptoms persisted, I had to go for more evaluation and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
The depressive phase was discovered to be because of bipolar disorder. I have been treating it and I am very well now. I have gone for therapy and treatment. This made it more personal for me. I once walked in the shoes of the people I help and it made me understand what they are going through the more.
The theme of the 2020 World Mental Health Day is ‘Greater Investment – Greater Access’. What is the significance of this theme?
In Nigeria, mental healthcare is in a poor state. We have eight Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospitals in Nigeria. According to the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, there are only 250 psychiatrists in Nigeria. That is approximately a ratio of one psychiatrist to 800,000 people. You can imagine just one person attending to this huge number of people.
Some people believe mental illness tends towards madness, insanity and so on, but it is much more than that. It is more about how people feel; the state of their mind. Without a good state of mental health, it is difficult to function properly in society.