From depression, to anxiety disorders and recurrent suicides, the issue of mental health in Nigeria can no longer be ignored. At the forefront of raising awareness about mental health in Nigeria is the founder of Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI), Victor Ugo. In this interview with ELSiEiSY Blog, he talks about the impact of his work and prospects for the future.
Awarded the Nelson Mandela-Graça Michel Innovation Awards in mental health in 2017, Victor and his team leverage on social media to push their message and help individuals deal with mental health issues.
Who is Victor Ugo?
Victor Ugo is a medical doctor, passionate about mental health advocacy, global mental health and social change. He is the Founder/CEO of Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative which is a leading mental health organization in Nigeria.
Mentally Aware Nigeria is unarguably the leading NGO championing the fight against Mental Health Stigma in Nigeria. What brought about this vision and how has the journey been?
MANI was born out of an unmet need in the health sector; as medical students we saw firsthand mental illnesses, their treatment, the stigma attached to mental illnesses and poor availability of mental health facilities. Having suffered from depression myself, learning about it and getting the necessary help was tough even though I’m a doctor. Now imagine the guy on the streets that doesn’t even know why he feels the way he does; that’s why MANI was created to provide the necessary information and mental health first aid where necessary.
The journey has been interesting despite the myths and stigma; and we’re changing the mental health discourse one day at a time.
What has been the impact story?
We’re 2years old this year and so far we’ve have had over 20million engagements via social media, organized trainings in Suicide intervention and Stress management for various organizations, visited and trained teachers and students of about 10 secondary schools in Lagos state, intervened via social media and via our Suicide hotline we’ve received about 6000 calls.
Seeing that most of your campaigns happen online, how would you classify the role of New Media as a tool for societal change?
New media is an important tool for change as there’s a wider reach to pass educating information, people can act as spotters for worrying posts and thereby speed up interventions also. New media can also be used as an advocacy tool to get society to focus.
Are there plans to reach more members of offline communities that may need the help you are offering?
We currently hold offline programs and outreaches to various communities with free screenings but are looking to partner with more organizations to do more. We also plan on creating free walk-in centers in different communities possibly in conjunction with the state governments.
The issue of mental health has its stigma rooted in the core of our society’s so called religious beliefs and orientation, what are the major challenges faced at mentally Aware Nigeria and how are these challenges being tackled?
At MANI, we’ve found that the major cause of stigma and myth is Ignorance; as what you don’t understand you ultimately fear. We have risen up to the challenge by holding various campaigns aimed at educating the public about common mental illnesses, their signs and symptoms, and also offering referral services to appropriate cadres of care.
What do we expect from MANI in the next 12months?
A fully functional toll-free helpline, more state chapters and possibly a mobile/walk-in centre in Lagos.
How can the public be part of this movement?
They can visit our website: www.mentallyaware.org to learn about what we do and also follow our social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram):@MentallyAwareNg and @stigmazer0
If you weren’t running MANI? What would you have been known for?
Being an agent of social change in whichever field I chose.
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