Mental Health Maintenance with the Founder of the Mind Clinic in Nigeria
As we maintain our looks and body, so we must maintain a good state of mind because without it, we cease to be well.
In a country like Nigeria, the topic of mental health can still be seen as taboo, yet placing emphasis on mental health is needed because it is a nation that is plagued with challenges that can lead to severe emotional toil.
Personally, working on my mental health has led me to a better sense of self-esteem, more self-awareness, and the ability to continue to go after things that brings me joy.
Now in honor of mental health month, I spoke to Blessing Olatunji, a second year Psychology student at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and the Founder of The Mind Clinic, a provider of free mental health services in Nigeria.
Here is what she has to say in this interview.
What does mental health mean and who can have mental health challenges?
When we discus mental health, we mean the state of our mind. This is similar to discussing our physical health which can be either good or bad.
To efficiently describe this, we would be discussing the mental health spectrum which goes from healthy to coping to struggling and then to unwell.
When an individual is healthy, then there is no mental distress. The person is fine.
In the coping stage, there is a presence of mental distress from day-to-day activities but at that stage, the person is still functioning.
When it gets to the struggling stage, the mental distress has been etched into the person’s mind because the person is not doing anything about it.
When an individual is unwell, the mental distress has stayed for too long. The person has been coping with major life challenges like divorce, break-ups, failures and whatsoever.
Who can face mental health challenges?
Anyone can face mental health challenges because no one is immune to it, irrespective of age, gender, class, or sexual orientation.
Although there are risk factors that make people more prone to mental health challenges.
Most mental health disorders are genetic/hereditary which means that if someone has had mental health challenges in their family, then the person is also at risk.
If the person has faced childhood traumatic experiences such as abuse, assault, neglect, it can contribute.
Also, if the person abuses drugs or alcohol, that can also lead to mental health issues. These issues and many more can make someone have mental health disorders.
What are the symptoms of a worsening mental health?
There are different symptoms of a worsening mental health, and it varies because we all have different mental health capacities.
We all have different coping mechanisms in our lives. However, there are key symptoms to look out for.
One being the loss of appetite, you might have lost your appetite and you find it difficult to eat or you find that you eat excessively.
Secondly, you might struggle with sleeplessness or you over-sleep.
Thirdly, another key symptom is that your performance would drop in either school or your work.
There is also social withdrawal. When your mental health worsens, you might withdraw from friends, family, and social gatherings because you want to be alone.
Also, know that some people can experience these symptoms, but they mask it up. Therefore, when you reach out to a friend, be mindful.
There’s such a thing as ‘‘smiling depression’’ when someone is happy on the outside but depressed on the inside.
How can we maintain our mental health?
First, take breaks. Some people are workaholics and don’t take breaks. Take out time to rest and sleep.
You don’t have to wait for your mental health to deteriorate until you speak to others to get help.
Next, don’t be ashamed if you are going through challenges. Speak out and let others know what is going on.
Then, exercise and eat right because it helps the body. Sometimes, physical health issues can also cause mental health problems. They can be connected.
Plus, you should detach from toxic people. Stay with people that make you feel good about yourself.
Also, do activities that make you see how amazing you are. If you sing well or write well, do that.
Don’t surround yourself with people that always see the negative in you because self-esteem issues can also contribute to mental health issues.
The theme for mental health month (2022) is loneliness, how does one handle or process loneliness?
Loneliness does not only happen when someone is physically alone. Loneliness is more of a state of mind.
You must first process the reasons why you feel lonely? Are you lonely because you feel that no one wants to talk to you? Or is it that you feel neglected? Or is it that you just need an emotional connection to somebody?
Another point to note is that there are different factors that affect loneliness. So it’s important that you don’t self-diagnose. When you feel lonely, talk to someone about it. Talk to a counselor or your friends.
When you talk to a counselor, they would walk you through the path of loneliness to determine why do you feel lonely or what do you wish you had in life?
Your loneliness could be physical, wanting to have connections with people.
The way to get through loneliness is by coming to terms with ourselves, who we are and what we can offer. This would help us in going a long way to helping with loneliness.
Tell us a bit about The Mind Clinic?
The Mind Clinic is a mental health organisation, presently virtual, that focuses on improving mental wellness and supporting survivors of assault.
We started three years ago, about three years and three months and it has been a very beautiful journey.
How do you help Survivors of Abuse?
As for survivors, we have counselors in place that take care of survivors of abuse and help them through the process of healing and getting better.
Once we have cases, we have licensed counselors who know how to handle the cases effectively.
We took our time to pick out counselors that can handle sexual abuse/assault cases. If we know that we can’t handle the cases, then we refer.
Why did you choose to focus on Survivors of Abuse?
We focus on survivors because it is a very delicate issue and if mismanaged, it can affect someone’s life and functionality.
When abuse happens, it breaks the person. It shatters and it is not something that anyone should go through alone.
Let’s discuss your book: “20 Shades of Iveren?’’
It’s a special book that discusses a form of abuse that’s not discussed about with a mother assaulting her daughter.
When it’s same gender abuse, people don’t often speak out about it.
I wrote this book so that people would know that irrespective of the gender or the relationship between the abuser and the survivor, it does not invalidate the fact that an assault occurred.
Sexual assault/abuse happens when there is no consent. Any sexual activity, either kissing or fondling or groping, no matter how little, it is still assault as long as it is not consensual.
In most cases where it is a family member that is assaulted, it is either that the person does not know how to talk about it, or they are not believed.
Even if the person is believed, you start hearing cases such as “please, don’t say this out,’’ or “you will bring shame to the family.”
Most times, people cover the cases because they want to preserve family ties.
The day we launched this book, two people reached out to me to talk about their experiences after reading the book because it gave validation to their trauma.
It made them feel that someone was paying attention to their own pain.
Do You Have any Message to Survivors of Abuse?
It is not your fault. We have different cases where people blame themselves. There is victim blaming where people make you think it is your fault.
There is also internalized victim blaming where you believe that it is your fault. You start thinking that why did I go there? Why did I talk to him? Why did I not wear this and that?
I want you to know that it is not you fault. It was never you fault, and no one should have to go through what you went through, and you will pull through.
To watch the video of this interview, view it on my Instagram here: Mental Health Maintenance: Q & A with Blessing Olatunji
Learn more about The Mind Clinic based in Nigeria.
If you are going through mental health challenges, I want you to know that you are not alone.
It is possible for you to find happiness and you are deserving of it. I’m sending you love and light and I encourage you to take the steps needed to get better.