Nigerian Mental Health Advocate, Sheifunmi Yusuf shares some tips on overcoming the stigma and seeking help
Sheifunmi Nomia Yusuf is a public relations consultant and a writer from Nigeria. Through his Get Naked NGO, he is raising awareness on HIV/AIDS and mental health issues especially among teenagers and young adults. In his interview with Engage Africa Foundation, he shares his knowledge about mental health disorders and urges people with these illnesses to seek help and not give in to the stigmatization associated with it. Here is what we discussed:
Who is Sheifunmi?
I am a public relations consultant, writer and a multimedia personality. To simply put them all lol
What is your NGO - Get Naked about?
Project Get Naked is a humanitarian initiative targeted at youths/young adults in Nigeria, Africa and beyond to tackle issues and public health cases that people or the general population are ashamed to talk about or shy away from (such as; HIV/AIDS, Mental Health Disorders). Also the campaign engages in community and youth development.
What motivated you to start the campaign?
During my Uni days, my close friends (who were also flat mates and very gifted/hard working in their areas if I may add) and I would sit and talk generally about issues affecting us, why we were scared of sharing our true honest selves with the world and how we envision the world to be. There, the idea for a youth platform started brewing, until one night we stumbled on the issue of unprotected sex and getting tested. In 2012, we started working on the initiative based on HIV/AIDS awareness and protection for young adults. We did the launch event in Lagos where we did the outdoor testing Centre, photo campaign. Over the years we structured the initiative to be able to focus general issues affecting youths of today. We wanted a platform to bare our souls, to be honest, truthful, not judged. A platform that says "This is who I am, I have flaws" yet keep working on yourself and contributing to your society positively.
What is Bipolar disorder?
It is a type of mental health disorder where a person experiences several and unusual mood shifts and energy level.
There are different types of Bipolar disorder diagnosis but the commonly known ones are Bipolar Disorder Type I (A person with this diagnosis will usually experience severe manic episodes - high energy levels or depressive - that last up to 7days or more) and Bipolar Disorder Type II (A person with this diagnosis will experience different patterns of depressive episodes, hypomanic or mixed episodes but not full-blown manic).
How do you think society treats people with mental illnesses?
Well in this part of the world, Nigeria to be exact we tend to cling on to cultural/traditional beliefs that are extinct, paying little or no attention to the changes in the world around us. Till date mental illnesses are still seen as plague or quickly tagged to drug use/addiction (when in fact drug addiction is a form of mental health disorder). A common form that Television has portrayed over time, for example, a girl goes home to her parents to talk about her fiancé and stating that he lives with a form of mental health disorder, her parents will be quick to tell her not to marry the guy because of fear, what the society or friend would say if they found out and more. A lot of people with mental health disorders are afraid to seek help because of the stigma, prejudice and name calling in our society today.
How has the Get Naked Campaign been able to de-stigmatize mental illnesses so far? Are the results encouraging?
We haven't treated the issue of mental health whole fully as we just wrapped up the focus on HIV/AIDS during our third edition in 2015 with the #WeCare campaign. This year and beyond we are shedding light on mental health and will be educating people through outreaches, short films, documentaries, music and community centers.
What will you say to someone living with bipolar and going through it in silence (or someone that’s being stigmatized?)
There is someone out there willing to be of help, there are medications and support system in place to help you function better and normal as you should. Don't live your life by other people's opinions or attitude towards your illness, strive harder and remember all the wonderful things you want to do in this world? You can in fact achieve them!
How can people connect with you?
All social media platforms. Twitter - @projectgetnaked, @sheifunmi
To support our research, advocacy and health promotion efforts to reduce the epidemic of chronic diseases in African countries, click here to donate
About the author:
Seyi Bamidele is a Biochemistry graduate from Lagos, Nigeria. She is passionate about preventive medicine and hopes to make meaningful contributions concerning public health issues in Africa.