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#Goals: Meet the 24 Year-Old Activist Helping Nigerians Gain Access to Mental Health Care

For our latest installment of #Goals we speak with the 24-year-old creator of PsyndUp, the online directory linking Nigerians to mental health professionals.

During the month of August, we’ll be highlighting aspirational folks who are setting major #goals and achieving them, and asking them to share their stories and insight to help motivate us all to “live our best lives.”

These athletes, artists, fashionistas, scholars, entrepreneurs, and more, are a reminder to us all, that dreams are valid!

Previously, we spoke to Nigerian Paralympian Lucy Ejike. For our latest installment, we speak to Nigerian mental health advocate Funmilade Adeniyi-Taiwo. Read our conversation below. 

Funmilade Adeniyi-Taiwo is the 24-year-old founder of PsyndUp, an online directory for mental health professionals in Nigeria, where people seeking help can connect with a therapist of their choice.

The site aims to eliminate the stress associated with finding certified therapists. Though therapists registered on the site are primarily located in Lagos and Abuja, Adeniyi-Taiwo hopes to expand the service to other cities across Nigeria.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Shayera Dark for OkayAfrica: What inspired PsyndUp? Did your education play any role in its inception?

Funmilade Adeniyi-Taiwo: PsyndUp was conceived after I attended two mental health awareness events in Lagos in 2016 organized by asktoks.com, a company that provides behaviour therapy for children with neurodevelopmental disorders. A prominent question that stuck out to me in both events was, “So where do we get help?” It occurred to me that maybe stigma might not be our only challenge with mental health in Nigeria, but also finding the right kind of help when you need it. With that, I decided, unaware of the various challenges I would face, to help people access the available mental health care we have in Nigeria.

Yes, my education played a major role. I studied psychology at the University of Toronto and have plans to become a clinical psychologist.

Why was it important for you to create PsyndUp?

It was important because simply talking about the difficulties in the Nigerian mental health care system won’t change them if we don’t take steps to improve it, no matter how small.

What has been the biggest setback you’ve experienced with PsyndUp?

Finding therapists has definitely been the hardest part. We’ve had to create our own network of psychologists by visiting hospitals, speaking to heads of departments and working with senior psychologists, who advise on what to look out for in terms of academic and clinical experience when registering psychologists. Psychiatrists on the other hand are easier to find. We still have to do the ground work of visiting hospitals but it’s easier to verify a psychiatrist once they are registered with the MDCN.

How does the “Find a Therapist” feature work?

Users who wish to access a therapist using the PsyndUp platform go to psyndup.com, click on Find a Therapist and tell us a little bit about themselves. The information gathered from the questionnaire is used to match people to a therapist close to them.

What benefits do users gain from registering on the website?

Users who register on PsyndUp get to ask questions on our online support community. Often times we find that people might just want to talk it out with someone who understands. By asking a question or sharing an experience with a challenge, you are able to reach others who potentially faced these experiences and can relate. It’s peer support, also a major facet of mental health care.

Mental illness is still stigmatized in Nigeria. How difficult has it been for PsyndUp to convince users to provide personal information online?

It hasn’t been that difficult surprisingly. A few people have asked us to ensure their information is not shared with anyone and we do just that. Also, we let users know who they’re speaking to when they contact us by email or message us online. It provides a real human feel.

What role can technology play in spreading mental awareness in Nigeria?

Technology (social media specifically) provides anonymity when having mental health conversations and the opportunity to reach a large untapped audience. It also allows you connect with mental health practitioners and people who are passionate about mental health.

Nigeria has eight neuropsychiatric hospitals, which are mostly concentrated in urban areas. In what ways can relevant stakeholders harness technology to connect people—especially rural dwellers—in need of mental care to clinicians?

Relevant stakeholders should focus on developing collaborative mental health care, where primary care workers are trained to implement suicide intervention strategies, crisis intervention strategies and psychological first aid. It means they will be empowered to assess various conditions and determine the priority for referral to a specialist.

Also, deprofessionalizing the field would help as it takes six to eight years to train a competent psychologist and more to train psychiatrists. Technology could be used to train non-clinicians (community leaders, HR professionals, teachers etc) to manage mental health cases before they escalate to the level of having to see a clinician. This can take the form of psychological first aid, peer support, or counseling, which would help reduce the burden on the [health care] system.

What future plans do you have for PsyndUp? 

I hope to solidify our on boarding and verification process, establish a strong network of therapists in Lagos and Abuja and use that network to reach the rural areas. This will undoubtedly involve ground work as well, so a mixture of the network and our physical efforts would shape this approach.

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