News Brief

#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.

Sports

#Goals: Lucy Ejike Is the World Powerlifting Champion Opening Doors For Nigerian Paralympians

For the latest installment of #Goals, we speak with record-holding, Nigerian Paralympian Lucy Ejike about how her quest to help other athletes with disabilities find success.

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 with Nigerian comedian, Okey Bakassi. For our latest installment, we speak to Nigerian Paralympian Lucy Ejike. Read our conversation below. 

Lucy Ejike, the Paralympic queen of powerlifting, is no stranger to setting and breaking world and Olympic records, despite being afflicted with polio.

The 39-year-old has represented Nigeria in five consecutive Paralympic Games from 2000 in Sydney to 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, where she served as team captain. She has won three gold and two silver medals in the course of her illustrious career.

Ejike's story is one of resilience and courage. Not one to rest on her laurels, the mother of two is already gearing up to compete at the 2020 Paralympic Games. We got a chance to catch up with the star athlete ahead of her training. Read our conversation below.

Shayera Dark for OkayAfrica: How did polio impact your childhood in Nigeria, where provisions for physically-challenged people in public spaces are mostly absent?

I was a year old when I contracted polio. My parents took me to the hospital but I would not walk again. My mother said I reverted to a new born baby as I could not even sit. Polio disfigured my stature, delayed my growth and prevented me from starting school when I was meant to.

As for the challenges I experienced as a disabled Nigerian, since I could not trek long distances to school, my father enrolled me in a home for the disabled, where I lived until the term ended. In university, getting to my lectures with crutches was difficult as there were no elevators. I had to climb up a two-story building every day.

How did you get involved in powerlifting?

I was introduced to sports at the home for the disabled in Enugu where I stayed during the school term. We trained at the stadium and sports council. Powerlifting piqued my interest because it was easy to measure performance as you’re mostly in competition with yourself. Winning is dependent on the weight your body can lift.

What was your family’s initial reaction to your decision to become powerlifter?

With my disability, my family was worried because they saw me lifting weights that were heavier than me. But they came around when they saw I enjoyed powerlifting and wanted to show the world that there are abilities in disability.

Can you elaborate on your training regimen and how you prepare yourself mentally for competitions?

I train two hours a day, three times a week. But whenever I have an upcoming competition, I add an extra hour to my regime and train four times a week, do more repetitions and watch my diet.

Lack of funding from the government has meant training equipment and facilities for Paralympians are dilapidated.

How have kept your spirits up in spite of these challenges?

My determination to achieve my goals and ability to manage and work with the equipment I have has helped keep my spirit up. I don't trouble myself with the condition of the country—I use whatever equipment available whether or not it’s the standard for powerlifting. When I prepare for competitions, my primary focus isn’t on what I’ll gain from winning medals, but on winning itself.

Have there been times you wanted to give up powerlifting and, if yes, what kept you going?

Yes, balancing my powerlifting championships with school work was difficult. My grades suffered and some of my lecturers advised me to drop one for the other. But I couldn’t because I was being sponsored as an active athlete by the Enugu State government and using the money to fund my education. Thankfully, I learnt to better manage my time and didn’t have to neglect my powerlifting career for school and vice versa. I was determined to make both work.

What’s your proudest professional achievement?

My proudest professional achievement was setting three World Records in Athens, two World Records in Beijing and three World Records in Rio de Janeiro.

Nigerian Paralympians at the Rio Games outperformed their Olympian counterparts, bringing home twelve medals, of which 8 were gold. Does the lack of recognition for Paralympic athletes by the Nigerian government frustrate you?

Yes, it is discouraging seeing your counterparts from other countries celebrated and recognised for their hard work and you are not. It’s very painful and discouraging.

You’ll be 42 in 2020. Will you be a force to reckon with at the next Paralympics games?

Yes. I’m already participating in trials and doing well.

What are your dreams for the future beyond powerlifting?

I plan to start a foundation for sports development among disabled athletes. I want to encourage them to rise above their disabilities and organize competitions for athletes, where winners are awarded prize money to support their training.

Arts + Culture

#Goals: Meet the Ghanaian Computer Engineer Who Wants To Rumble with Google

We speak with Emmanuel Owusu on his role at BitClave, a startup that wants to shake up Google’s near monopoly of the online ad market.

Ghanaian-born Emmanuel Owusu is completing his doctorate at Carnegie Mellon University and is an expert in the fields of cyber security, blockchain, Internet of Things, public policy, and privacy. He is also the chief architect for BitClave, a startup that many are describing as “the Anti-Google” blockchain. BitClave is a Silicon Valley-based startup delivering decentralized search and whose stated goal is to disrupt Google’s near monopoly of the online ad market.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.