GUEST FEATURE: DR. IYEWANDE DIPEOLU, SECRETARY GENERAL OF MENTALLY AWARE NIGERIA INITIATIVE (MANI)

In my research into Mentally Aware Nigeria, one name kept coming up: Dr. Wande. So I went searching, and I found her. Lucky for me, she took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions I have about mental health, mental illness and MANI.

To be honest, I am still a bit starstruck. A leisurely stroll through her Instagram (@wandedip, you’re welcome) will give you a little insight into just how amazing and cool she is.

We asked, and she answered in detail. Read through the interview below.

1. Tell us about yourself:
A. I’m a physician passionate about mental/behavioural health; public health and research. I love to write, cook, read, listen to music and volunteer for a good cause.

2. How did you get involved in MANI? What is it about?

A. I’d always been interested in mental health and when my friend & colleague, Dr. Victor Ugo; talked about his plan to start an initiative to help raise awareness about mental health and illnesses I was very interested.

B. So basically, Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative(M.A.N.I) started as a result of unmet needs identified in the area of Mental health in Nigeria. Our major aim is to alleviate stigma and the suffering arising from mental illnesses by adequately educating the public and thereby, reducing ignorance and negligence of the health of the mind by individuals, the government and the society at large.

3. What exactly is mental health? How do you diagnose or recognise a mental illness?

A. Mental Health as WHO defines it: is a state of mental well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to her or his community.

B. Diagnosing a mental illness needs to be done by a qualified health professional and it’s usually done by getting a detailed history from the patient, performing a full physical and mental examination and investigations before treatment.
There are varying signs and symptoms for the different mental illnesses; would highlight a few from the commonly diagnosed/occurring illnesses.

1. Depression: 7 classical symptoms (presence of two or more for >2-4 weeks)
– low mood
– low energy
– anhedonia (loss of interest in things that previously gave pleasure)
– loss of/increased appetite for food or sex
– insomnia or hypersomnia
– suicidal ideation
– feelings of guilt, hopelessness & worthlessness

2. Anxiety disorders: these are a large group and would just mention a few things about the commonest which is : the panic disorder.
– terror that strikes at random.
– profuse sweating
– chest pain
– palpitations (unusually strong or irregular heartbeats).
– Choking sensation or might feel like person is having a heart attack.

You know your mental health is failing when you’re constantly tired; unable to rest, sleep or concentrate on tasks both at home and at work; you start to withdraw from people and activities that used to give you pleasure; you’re always having mood swings; you have a poor or overactive appetite; you start to have trouble sleeping or you sleep too much; generally, when you become unable to cope with life and the stress it brings.

4. How does MANI try to demystify the stereotypes around mental health issues like depression and suicide?

A. Our organisation noted that the major cause of the stigma associated with mental illnesses is Ignorance; as that which we do not understand we fear.
So we demystify mental illnesses by educating the public about mental health and illnesses with our monthly campaigns, sharing relatable stories via our social media pages, live chat sessions and also organise community outreaches to educate those at the grassroots without access to social media.

5. What programs does MANI run? Do you work with approved health professionals?

A. We have Virtual Support Groups, provide Psychological first Aid & Suicide Intervention, Counselling and Therapy with Referral to appropriate professionals (Psychiatrists, etc), Mindfulness.
We also have State chapters that organise events and hold outreaches in their immediate community.

6. How does MANI get their funding? Does the government recognise the organisation and support in any way?

A. We’re self funded, and rely on the goodwill of members and volunteers.
So far, there’s no government recognition, support or funding. We’ve done some work with the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency though.

7. Do you think Nigeria is making any improvements in mental awareness?

A. Yes we are, but we still have a very long way to go.

8. What do you think about how mentally ill people are treated by our Health system?

A. So far, the healthcare system does the most it can with the next to nothing resources available.
There’s a lot of stigma attached to mental illnesses and even the healthcare professionals in charge of their care are stigmatised too.
There needs to be mental health first aid available for them from emergency care to primary and tertiary care.

9. Say something positive to our readers.

A. Your mental health is as important as your physical health. Stay Mentally Aware.

10. How do we reach MANI in case we need help? Is there a suicide hotline?

A. You can send a dm to any of our social media pages: @mentallyawareng; and get a prompt response.

We also have talk/suicide hotlines: 08060101157, 08093565520, 08112796556 (no prank calling please).