Mental health issues affect us all, but are seldom discussed. Thankfully, technology can now act as a medium to bypass the stigma associated with seeking help.
Ireti Bakare-Yusuf was invited by a student organization in Lagos, Nigeria, to deliver a keynote speech as part of their conference on 21st century leadership. She knew immediately what she was going to speak about: “reforming the mindset of the female gender in leadership.” As a feminist and advocate for gender equality, this was a topic close to Bakare-Yusuf’s heart.
“As I was preparing, I received a voice recording of a professor offering to upgrade the results of one of his students to grade B, in exchange for five rounds of sex,” she recalls.
In an attempt to reinforce his power, the professor explained to his student how “kind” he was being by selecting her, he added that many other young girls would be privileged to be in her shoes.
This, according to Bakare-Yusuf, is part of the endemic practice of sexual abuse within Nigeria’s educational institutions.
According to Bakare-Yusuf, the principal partner of NottingHill Management and Media, the results of these depraved practices lead to long-term mental illness for many youths who continue to suffer in silence due to their fear of stigmatization. She is also the founder of the #Nomore web app, a technology-driven solution that will put power back in the hands of survivors of sexual violation in Nigeria.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), good mental health is a state of 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 contribute to his or her community. A new study by the World Bank’s Mind, Behavior and Development Unit shows 22% of Nigerians suffer from chronic depression, furthermore, the proportion of youth within this group is also increasing daily.
“The youth are faced with a unique dilemma today and this is mainly caused by social media.”
“There are so many pressures that these young minds are exposed to, like the need to fit in and belong. They spend more time on social media sites in contrast to the time spent with actual friends. When you add to this the stress of performance in education, work and relationships, it takes a toll on the mental health of the youth,” says Raimah Amevor, creator of a new mental health and well being platform for African women, called Therapeutic – Mindfully African.
Therapeutic is on a mission to help African women think seriously about their mental health, embrace their truth and live purposefully. The platform brings together qualified mental health professionals from across the globe to provide weekly advice and recommendations.In addition, Therapeutic also has a weekly confessional blog series called Therapy Thursdays that follows a young black woman into her experience of therapy.
“There has to be a digital detox. Addiction to electronic devices such as mobiles, tablets, iPads has resulted in the creation of a virtual reality world for the youth. There has to be a balance of time spent off these devices to help them reconnect with the real world and remove the dependency on these gadgets,” says Amevor.
The blog also focuses on sparking the conversation about well being issues that affect us all, but are seldom discussed. In Ghana, besides the lack of understanding, there is stigma attached to mental illness,coupled with limited supply of trained professionals to treat people suffering from it.
The WHO estimates that about 650,000 people living in Ghana suffer from severe mental disorders, with a further 2.1 million people suffering from moderate to mild mental disorders.
“People are more comfortable reaching out if there are emotional distress-related issues; if it’s about mental illness, the stigma stops people from opening up and seeking help,” says Maame Adjei, a producer working on a documentary exploring the stigma of mental health in Ghana.
Her goal is to shed light on the seriousness of mental illnesses and help people acknowledge the need for help.
“The breakout point for the documentary is my own family. Three of my mother’s five siblings battled mental health disease. One died at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital (in Ghana).
“I want to use that along with my own need to understand my family history and my own foray into seeing a therapist to examine how we deal with mental health disease,” she says.
Usually, those suffering from mental illness prefer to remain anonymous while seeking help. Technology provides a medium to do just that.
“Young women who have suffered sexual abuse live with the mental scars of the ordeal. Sometimes without the right help they become damaged by the experience and are unable to live fulfilled lives. We created the app to empower them to take action against their abusers so they can begin their fight to reclaim what was stolen from them,” says Bakare-Yusuf.
Survivors of sexual abuse will be able to report, document and store evidence of their experience in a time-stamped, secure and encrypted file so that it is available for them to use when they are ready to take legal action. The app will also contain information about support groups, NGOs,specialist hospitals, legal advisors, therapists or psychologists for survivors.
“The app is especially unique because users are encouraged to name their perpetrator. Thus, the built-in capability is able to identify repeat offenders, which will not only empower users with the power for class action, but also help prosecutors to find witnesses and build a stronger case to ensure conviction,” says Bakare-Yusuf.
Mental health, unlike physical discomfort, is tougher to tackle, but experts feel technology and communication can bring about a positive change.
“It is our goal to increase awareness for those struggling with mental issues, which would help us fight the stigma and then offer people products and services that empower them,” says Bakare-Yusuf.
The effects of poor mental health are far-reaching, and if not taken care of, have the potential to seep into other aspects of our lives and manifest in destructive ways. The roots of unresolved psychological issues could affect your physical health, result in social isolation, and lead to a decline in productivity.
Hopefully, technology will continue to provide more ways and means to understand the human mind better, with help coming from the most unusual quarters – from the mobile phone in your back-pocket to the app in the palm of your hand.
Download issues of Forbes Africa
- Single Digital Issue: Nigeria 60 - Forbes Africa Oct/Nov 2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: James Mwangi Cover - Forbes Africa Aug/Sep2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa June/July 2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa April 2020 - 30 Under 30 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa March 2020 R50.00