ALL HANDS SHOULD BE ON DECK TO DEAL WITH MENTAL HEALTH
Prof. Hope Eghagha
HOW IT ALL STARTED
When we started, the organisation was called HASA (Help a Soul Alliance) and we started it as a reaction to the increase number of suicides in Nigeria. We thought that there was something we could do by reaching out to depressed persons through counselling, and subsequent referral to a mental-health specialist, if necessary. We started with a WhatsApp group, we were brainstorming, then, somebody said let's open a closed group on Facebook which we did. Then, we decided to register it with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) because we needed external funding and support. The name HASA was not available, and you cannot use "alliance "if you are going to register an NGO. So, we started shopping for names and that was how MASHI (Mind and Soul Helpers Initiative) was born.
WHAT WE DO
We have intervened in the areas of people who are depressed, who have attempted suicide, under the influence of hard drugs, and people who have psychotic behaviour. Some of the people are reported to us, but some also approach us directly for help.We also reach out to people who go through traumatic experiences based on the loss of a loved one, loss of a job and all kinds of situations.
We have counsellors and volunteers across the country, and several abroad. When a situation arises, we look for whoever is closest to talk to the person. After one or two phone counselling sessions, many of the people tell us they feel better, and relived.
We come from a culture where suicide is a taboo, and when people commit suicide, the incidents are usually not reported by their families. Before the presence of social media, suicides were private act and if anybody committed suicide, the family could quietly but bury them. But right now, suicide has become a very public event. Some of the people who commit suicide leave a note and some do it publicly. The fact is that the world has become a global village, and if you are in Nigeria, you can see what is happening in America. You read what is happening in the United Kingdom (UK) and all over the world. Permit me to say, there was a time that the third mainland bridge in Lagos was a hotspot for suicide in Nigeria; People would go there (third mainland bridge in Lagos) and take plunge over the bridge
Suicide in Nigeria is on the increase but there are different reasons that we could say are responsible for this. For one, the Nigerian economy is bad and the people are going through hard times. There are also people who have lost their jobs, and some don't have jobs, even after graduating from the university. The environment is also an issue, if you are not careful, you can lose hope that nothing could come out of it.
The question would then be: why has suicide become an option? I remember that in the 80s, Nigeria went through an economic recession; the people suffered and they lost their jobs, but we didn't hear of suicide cases like this. There are more suicide reports in Nigeria now. Almost every month, people commit suicide.
Although in America, the number of people that commit suicide and it is very high there, taking one’s life is against our African culture. The African environment provides different sources of hope and support. Apart from your parents, usually your support system includes cousins, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, uncles, communities and religion; all of these are forms of support networks for individuals who are distressed.
We take religion seriously in Nigeria and all of these are forms of support network for individuals who are distressed. I think it is fair to say that those structures are failing and they are not as supportive as they used to be. Even the uncles, aunties, cousins are all going through their own challenges and they may not be there to provide support to a family member who requires it. So, that may be one of the reasons why there is an increase in the number of suicide cases in Nigeria.
MASHI AWARENESS CAMPAIGN
We are championing an advocacy that suicide should not be an option, and the fact that you are going through a terrible time now does not mean that the times will always be terrible. We have plans to organise a mental-health awareness walk, and sensitive the public through distribution of fliers, and appearances at radio and television programmes to highlight the need for people to seek help if they begin to have suicidal thought. Simultaneously, we are also campaigning against stigmatisation.
Once people hear someone has gone to see a psychiatrist, the next thoughts they have is that he is mad. No, that is wrong. If you have a bone problem, you see an orthopedic surgeon, and if you have a problem with your pregnancy, you go and see a gynecologist. If your mind is disturbing you, you see a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. There are methods like psychotherapy and medications which are used to treat depression, whether it is mild, moderate or severe.
As part of our advocacy, we also give lectures and talks. We visit secondary schools, and plans are underway to go to churches, mosques to give talk on depression and managing depression.