Mental Health Clubs In Schools Create More Awareness For Victims To Seek Help

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Mediaage NG News – ABUJA, Nigeria

A good mental health entails being able to think, feel and react with a positive mindset. But, going through a period of poor mental health, one might find it frequently difficult in thinking, feeling or reacting positively. It becomes a problem and impossible to cope with. This can feel just as bad as a physical illness, maybe worse. In this interview, we had the honour of speaking with the Managing Director of Bokano Nigeria Limited, Paul Onofiok, a specialist with keen interest in mental health issues. In company of Secure D-Future International Initiative, an organisation passionate about an improved mental state of the society, he spoke on issues of mental health challenges in our communities. Excerpts:

Can we meet you sir?
My name is Paul Onofiok, Managing Director, Bokano Nigeria Limited which is an EPC company.

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How did you get to know about Secure D-Future International Initiative?

The founder, Sa’adatu Adamu has always been a good friend and I know she’s been passionate about helping the society, especially in terms of mental health. When she pitched this idea (sponsorship) to me a couple of years ago, I told her whenever she gets started, my company will like to partner with SDF on improving mental awareness in the society. So far, we’ve been partners in this regard and it’s been good. I look forward to greater collaboration.

What’s you motive partnering with the SDF?

When you see someone who has that kind of passion for the environment or community, as Sa’adatu does, helping some of the less privileged, it aligns with some of my personal goals. So, that’s one of the reasons that drove me into this cause.

How can you describe the partnership?

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The partnership has been fantastic, especially in the history of mental health. I feel that mental health is something we don’t talk about much in this part of the world and for someone to take it upon herself to infuse that knowledge and how urgent it is, especially for the young ones going through some challenges, probably need a guide from the older ones. So, I think it’s a very important aspect of life.

Mental health is a disease (permit me to use that word) a lot of people don’t know they have. One way of tackling it is through organisations like the SDF going on sensitisation towards planting mental health clubs in schools, creating that awareness and making it easy for people to talk to counsellors and seek help. It’s one thing to identify a problem, it’s another to seek for help.

The moment you identify that there’s something wrong, you’ve solved the problem by fifty percent. The next thing is to get help from the right people and that’s what SDF is doing. I believe that as they begin to plant these mental health clubs in different schools, they are in turn actually helping our communities. We may not appreciate the results now but, down the road, we will see how much of an impact this has made.

What do you think of the mental health club?

I think it’s a very good thing. We are catching them young and the whole idea is to create that awareness, people should not be shy of talking about mental health issues. If they have problems, they have somewhere to go to. So, before now, there was no mental health club and when people have issues, where would they go to? Sometimes, people feel comfortable talking to somebody like a stranger. They may not want to talk to a family member, they may not even want to talk to their teachers. So, if there’s a club like this, they will be willing to talk to an SDF representative and whoever it is. They feel more comfortable expressing their frustrations with these persons. That’s one of the good things of this mental health clubs.

What attracted you to this drive?

Like I said previously, the whole idea is centred on this part of the world, we don’t take seriously the problem of mental health like we should. In some places, it is still regarded as a stigma. People are depressed, they go through a lot, even at home. Even with the way the economy is, people go through depression and mental stress. There’s a need for us to reach out to these persons because they exist. In families, we have lots of persons who go through mental health issues, we can’t shy away from that problem.

How much impacts have you made?
So far, we’ve inaugurated mental health clubs in three schools and we plan to capture thirteen more this year.

With this drive you have, is it something you can encourage others to emulate?

Absolutely! One of the things I was even talking with Sa’adatu is to get some of my other colleagues to support this initiative. I feel that the great support we can have, the more outreach we will achieve. By the time we get more thirteen schools, then get an increased number of support, we can increase by five or more times these numbers. So, yes the plan is to get more people involved.

Do you think there are key areas the government need to come in and contribute?

I am one of those persons that think that the private sector has a bigger role to play in this but, at the same time, if the government can help create that awareness and supporting the program as well, encouraging by including things like this in school curriculum, that will also help. But, I think the major role is with the private sector. We know this problem better and by the time we interact with the people, we should take it upon ourselves and ensure that we do what we are supposed to do. We will be able to save the society.

Mental health issues are closely associated more with the female gender, with less attention shown to the men. Does it mean it’s the females that suffer the most?

I am not of the opinion that mental health is a gender sensitive issue. Yes, I believe a lot of women go through these things but, I think when you talk about mental health, it’s blind to gender. There are a lot of men who have mental health issues as well. It is sad to hear some of the things that our mothers, sisters go through. That’s one of the areas government can come in and prohibit some of those things, make them laws that women should not be exposed to barbaric acts. It’s sad that we live in the 21st century and women are still exposed to these nefarious acts. But, like I said earlier, mental health issues should not be gender sensitive, everybody goes through same mental issues. You’ve mentioned some traumatic situations, there are a lot of people who look normal but, go through mental health challenges. In fact, they are even in greater numbers. You see people get up everyday, they look normal but, deep inside them, they are going through a whole lot and you just never know.

So, we just keep talking about this mental health problems. In this country, I don’t think we talk about these issues like we should. People already relate mental issues with people who are walking naked on the streets but, that’s just a minor number of persons going through mental problems in the society. The majority are those who look normal like me and you but, are going through a whole lot within themselves.

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