World Mental Health Day: Dr Maymmunah Kadiri sheds light on Mental Health and The Role It Plays In Africa.



Dr. MAYMUNAH YUSUF KADIRI (aka DR. MAY) popularly referred to as “The Celebrity Shrink,” and is a multiple award-winning Mental Health Physician, Advocate & Coach. She is the Medical Director and Psychiatrist-In-Chief at Pinnacle Medical Services, Nigeria’s leading and foremost Psychology and Mental health wellness center prominent in the application of innovative clinical approaches in the management/treatment of a wide range of psychological, emotional, and behavioral related disorders.

In honor of World Mental Health Day we had a conversation with Dr Maymunah, where she shed more light on Mental Health Advocacy and the role it plays in Africa.

Maymunah, could you please introduce yourself to our audience and share a bit about your background and what led you to become a mental health advocate?

Dr. MAYMUNAH YUSUF KADIRI (aka DR. MAY) popularly referred to as “The Celebrity Shrink,” and is a multiple award-winning Mental Health Physician, Advocate & Coach. She is the Medical Director and Psychiatrist-In-Chief at Pinnacle Medical Services, Nigeria’s leading and foremost Psychology and Mental health wellness center prominent in the application of innovative clinical approaches in the management/treatment of a wide range of psychological, emotional, and behavioral related disorders.

Dr. Kadiri is a dynamic Consultant Neuro- Psychiatrist and a Fellow of the National Post-Graduate Medical College of Nigeria (FMCPsych) with almost 20 years’ experience as a practicing Physician. She is a trained and certified Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behavioral Therapist from Albert Ellis Institute, New York, USA. She is also a certified Trauma Counsellor and Neurofeedback Practitioner.


Dr. Kadiri has wide experience in psycho-therapeutic techniques and has perfected her skills whilst in private practice and whilst working for a variety of organizations. She is a recognized radio and television guest Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist. She is a weekly columnist on personal health matters with Business Day Newspaper and also contributes to articles published in magazines. Also, the co-host of the most favorite health TV talk show, THE PHYSICIANS which airs every Saturday on DSTV, GOTV and StarTimes for the past 3years.


She is the only Nigerian with the 14Ps…..Physician, Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Practitioner (NLP, BFB, NFB), Public Speaker, Published Author, Producer (movies), Proficient Coach, Parent, Philanthropist, People oriented, Public Health Advocate and Passionate about God and life.”


The founder of Pinnacle Health Radio, African’s #1 online health radio and a non-for-profit organization, “Pinnacle Medicals SPEAKOUT Initiative” which is geared towards creating Mental Health literacy in Nigeria and beyond.


The Executive producer of award-winning movies, Pepper soup (focused on drug abuse) and Little Drops of Happy (focused on depression, postpartum depression and suicide) and creator of the most innovative mental health app in Africa, HOW BODI.


My mantra is normalizing mental health conversations by building a culture of compassion and my driving force is to live, to learn and to impact generations positively. When not working as a Physician, she loves to tour the world, work on disruptive innovations and talk fashion.
Dr. Maymunah Kadiri is a trailblazer, an innovator and she is married with three lovely children.


Getting to medical school we are faced with all the sub-specialties from medicine to surgery to paediatrics, OBGYN, etc. But when I got into my psychiatric posting, which is a sub-specialty under medicine, I realized the importance of mental health.  I found out that just by sitting and observing people you will notice the way they behave, act and how it influences their actions. And it then dawned on me it was an area I would really like to explore. And for the fact that mental health is the medicine for the past, present and the future but largely untapped and a grey area, that was also a glaring option to step up into this space, mental health. Most importantly is the impact mental health advocacy has had on me personally and professionally.

Mental health awareness is a crucial issue globally. What motivated you to specifically focus on mental health advocacy in Nigeria and the broader African context? 

Mental health awareness is undeniably a vital issue on a global scale, touching the lives of millions regardless of geographic boundaries. However, my decision to specifically focus on mental health advocacy in Nigeria and the broader African context was motivated by a deeply personal connection, a profound sense of responsibility, and a recognition of the unique challenges faced by African communities in addressing mental health issues. 


According to statistics;


  • An average of 50 million Nigerians suffer from a mental illness
  • One in four Africans of which Nigeria has the highest population suffer from mental illnesses
  • Nigeria ranked 15th in the number of suicides per year
  • In Nigeria, fewer than 10% of those battling mental illness have access to mental healthcare. 


Cultural and religious beliefs contribute to stigma surrounding mental health such as spiritual possession, curses, or divine punishment. These beliefs also discourage seeking professional help when and if needed by individuals. 


This cultural stigma prevents timely intervention and appropriate treatment, exacerbating the condition’s impact. With all these, there is the pressing need for improved mental health services to cultural considerations and a commitment to human rights. Ultimately, addressing mental health in these regions is essential for the well-being of individuals and communities.


By approaching advocacy with cultural sensitivity, recognizing the intersectionality of mental health and gender, empowering communities, and fostering sustainable solutions, I sought to contribute to a future where mental health is prioritized, understood, and supported throughout the diverse landscapes of Africa. This journey is not just a mission; it is a transformative vision, one where the power of advocacy creates lasting change, fostering mentally healthy, resilient, and compassionate communities across the continent.

In many African cultures, there’s a stigma surrounding mental health. How have you been working to break down these barriers and promote open conversations about mental well-being?

In many African societies, the shadows of stigma and misunderstanding loom large over conversations about mental health. Deeply entrenched cultural beliefs, societal norms, and misconceptions have historically shrouded mental health issues in silence and shame. However, confronting this stigma head-on and fostering open conversations about mental well-being is essential for the holistic progress of African communities. As an advocate deeply committed to this cause, I have embarked on a multifaceted journey to break down these barriers, dispel myths, and promote a culture of understanding and acceptance surrounding mental health in African cultures

Breaking down the barriers of mental health stigma in African cultures requires a multifaceted approach rooted in cultural sensitivity, education, community engagement, and policy advocacy. By fostering open conversations, empowering communities, engaging with traditional and religious leaders, addressing gender-specific stigmas, leveraging technology, and promoting self-care, we can dismantle the walls of silence and shame surrounding mental health. This ongoing effort is not just about eradicating stigma; it’s about nurturing a society where mental well-being is valued, understood, and supported. An inclusive society where individuals can seek help without fear, fostering a culture of empathy, acceptance, and resilience in the heart of African communities.

My mandate is to nominalize mental health conversation by building a culture of compassion. It is possible to promote open conversations about mental well-being in African cultures and beyond.

As an African woman, can you discuss some of the unique challenges and opportunities you’ve encountered in your journey as a mental health advocate?

African women involved in mental health advocacy face unique challenges rooted in cultural norms and gender expectations. A quick example is when people call me MAD DOCTOR…the belief is that there is something wrong with me to decide to do this work. In fact, there was an occasion a male client came to my office and wanted to see me, but felt I should be a man, not a woman. After passing through that phase, he felt I should be old, wearing glasses and grey instead of the glamorous looking shrink he met.  Likewise, there are also significant opportunities to make a positive impact by leveraging our community roles, personal experiences, and supportive networks. The. digital age has opened new avenues for advocacy. Social media platforms and online forums have become powerful tools for raising awareness, sharing resources, and connecting individuals with mental health support. Education is another promising opportunity. By integrating mental health education into school curricula and community programs, we can promote understanding and empathy from an early age. I collaborate with educators and policymakers to develop age-appropriate, culturally sensitive educational materials that challenge stereotypes and promote mental health literacy. Empowering the younger generation with knowledge equips them to combat stigma and support their peers, fostering a more compassionate society. Moreover, partnerships with international organizations and advocacy networks amplify the impact of my work. Collaborating with mental health advocates from diverse backgrounds allows for the exchange of ideas, strategies, and best practices. The advocacy efforts can contribute to destigmatizing mental health, improving access to care, and promoting overall well-being in their communities.


My journey as an African woman mental health advocate is shaped by both challenges and opportunities. The unique intersectionality of my identity informs my approach, emphasizing cultural sensitivity, gender inclusivity, and community engagement. While deeply rooted stigma and limited resources pose significant challenges, the resilience of African communities, the power of digital communication, the potential of education, and global collaborations provide promising avenues for creating meaningful change. Through persistent advocacy, compassionate outreach, and strategic partnerships, I remain committed to transforming mental health support in Africa, fostering a society where individuals are heard, understood, and embraced on their journey toward mental well-being.

Could you share some insights into the cultural and societal factors that influence how mental health is perceived and addressed in Africa, and how you navigate these factors in your advocacy work?

The perception and treatment of mental health issues in Africa are deeply entwined with cultural and societal factors, shaping attitudes, beliefs, and access to care. As a mental health advocate in this complex landscape, I have navigated these intricate factors with sensitivity, respect for cultural diversity, and a deep commitment to fostering change.


Cultural beliefs significantly influence how mental health is perceived in Africa. Traditional African societies often attribute mental health problems to supernatural forces, ancestral spirits, or curses. Such beliefs can lead to stigma and discrimination, isolating individuals with mental health issues from their communities. Rituals and traditional healers are frequently sought for remedies, emphasizing the spiritual dimension of mental health struggles. Navigating these deeply ingrained beliefs requires delicate advocacy approaches that respect cultural diversity while promoting accurate information.


In my advocacy work via social media, you-tube, webinars, workshops, online health radio among others, I emphasize culturally sensitive dialogue. By engaging with local communities, religious leaders, and traditional healers, I facilitate conversations that bridge the gap between traditional beliefs and scientific understanding. Sharing stories of recovery and resilience within the cultural context helps challenge misconceptions, demonstrating that mental health issues are not a result of spiritual misdeeds but genuine health concerns that can be addressed with appropriate support and care.


Navigating the complex web of cultural and societal factors influencing mental health perception in Africa requires patience, understanding, and a multifaceted approach. Through culturally sensitive dialogue, education, collaboration with traditional healers, and advocacy for accessible healthcare, I aim to dismantle stigma and promote mental health awareness. By respecting the diversity of African cultures and embracing the strength of community support, my advocacy work strives to create a future where mental health is understood, accepted, and accessible to all, regardless of cultural or societal constraints. Together, we can transform perceptions, break down barriers, and build a society where mental well-being is a fundamental human right

In your experience, what role do African women play in promoting mental health awareness and support within their communities, and how can they further contribute to this cause?

African women play crucial roles in promoting mental health awareness and support within their communities. Their contributions are invaluable in addressing mental health challenges and fostering positive change. Here are some of the roles that African women often play and ways they can further contribute to this cause:

  • African women are often primary caregivers within their families and communities. They provide emotional support and care for family members who may be struggling with mental health issues
  • Many African women are active advocates for mental health awareness. They use their voices to challenge stigma, share personal stories, and educate others about mental health issues.
  • African women often hold leadership roles in their communities. They can leverage their positions to influence community attitudes and policies related to mental health
  • African women who have personally experienced mental health challenges can offer valuable peer support to others facing similar struggles
  • African women can bridge the gap between traditional, cultural beliefs and modern mental health practices. They can help communities understand that mental health challenges are not a sign of weakness or supernatural punishment.
  • Some African women pursue careers in mental health such as Psychiatrists, Psychologists, counselors, or social workers like myself and fellow colleagues. They provide essential clinical support to individuals in need.
  • African women can foster collaboration among diverse stakeholders, including government agencies, NGOs, religious institutions, and healthcare providers, to collectively address mental health challenges

In further contributing to the cause of mental health awareness and support, African women can continue to prioritize education, community engagement, and collaboration. They should also ensure that their efforts are culturally sensitive and consider the unique needs and challenges faced by women and marginalized communities in their regions. By working together and advocating for change, African women can continue to make a positive impact on mental health within their communities and beyond.

Can you share any success stories or memorable moments from your advocacy work that highlight the positive impact you’ve had on individuals or communities?

There are several success stories in my advocacy journey too many to mention. Some I’m proud of are the 

  • During the Ita faji building collapse, I called for psychosocial support for survivors and the mental health ecosystem stood up for this worthy cause. Within 24hrs, I had over 300 individuals join the WhatsApp group I set up. We then had to divide ourselves based on our specialties…. Faith based counselors, therapist, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, mental health advocates and enthusiast so we could achieve our goal which we did.


  • That WhatsApp group also became useful during the covid-19 lockdown where we supported Nigerians with free counselling using toll free lines. Also, during the Endsars period. Till date, this WhatsApp group is still functional and serving its purpose of saving lives. 


  • Our toll-free line 0-8000-SPEAKOUT has saved over 5000 people from taking their lives.


  • Our Employees Assistance Program, one of our products at Pinnacle Medical Services that support corporate organizations by creating safe spaces where their employees including family members can receive emotional and mental health support without being judged and criticized. We currently manage over 25 corporate organizations serving over a million employees and their families.


  • Developing the most innovating mental health app in Africa, HOWBODI where individuals can access culturally appropriate therapy on the go.

As a mental health advocate, what do you believe are the most critical steps that need to be taken to improve mental healthcare accessibility and quality in Africa?

Mental healthcare in Africa stands at a critical crossroads. While awareness about mental health issues is increasing, significant challenges in accessibility and quality persist. As a mental health advocate deeply committed to fostering change, I believe there are several crucial steps that need to be taken to improve mental healthcare accessibility and quality across the African continent. These transformative measures encompass policy reforms, increased investment, community engagement, and destigmatization efforts.

Policy reforms are the cornerstone of any substantial change in healthcare systems. African governments must prioritize mental health by formulating and implementing policies that ensure mental healthcare is integrated into primary healthcare services. 

Adequate funding allocation is essential to establish and sustain mental health programs, improve infrastructure, and train healthcare professionals. By earmarking a significant portion of the healthcare budget for mental health, governments can address the longstanding issue of underfunding, enabling the expansion of mental health services and the training of more mental health professionals

One of the critical challenges in Africa is the shortage of mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors. Training programs need to be expanded, and incentives should be provided to encourage more individuals to pursue careers in mental healthcare.

Community-based mental health services are vital for reaching individuals in remote areas where healthcare facilities are scarce. By investing in community health workers and training them to identify and provide basic mental health support, early interventions can occur, preventing the escalation of mental health issues.

Stigma remains a pervasive barrier to seeking mental healthcare in Africa. Public awareness campaigns, led by governments, NGOs, and grassroots organizations, are essential to challenge misconceptions and stereotypes about mental health. These campaigns should be culturally sensitive, emphasizing that mental health issues are common, treatable, and not a sign of weakness. Celebrities, community leaders, and influential figures can serve as powerful advocates, sharing their own experiences and encouraging others to seek help. By normalizing conversations around mental health, societies can create a supportive environment where individuals feel safe to disclose their struggles and access appropriate care without fear of judgment.

Integrating mental health services into primary healthcare facilities is a pragmatic approach to reach a larger population. Primary healthcare workers can be trained to identify common mental health disorders, provide basic counseling, and refer individuals to specialized services when necessary. This integration ensures that mental health is not treated in isolation but as an integral part of overall health. Moreover, it reduces the stigma associated with visiting standalone mental health clinics, encouraging more people to seek help.

Robust research is fundamental to understanding the specific mental health needs of diverse African populations. Research studies can provide valuable insights into the prevalence of mental health disorders, the effectiveness of interventions, and the impact of sociocultural factors on mental health outcomes. Accurate data collection and analysis enable policymakers to make informed decisions, allocate resources efficiently, and tailor mental health services to meet the unique needs of different communities.

Mental health advocates, both individuals and organizations, play a crucial role in driving change. Empowering these advocates with resources, training, and platforms to amplify their voices can catalyze social and political transformation. Supportive networks and mentorship programs can foster collaboration among advocates, encouraging the exchange of ideas and strategies. Recognizing and celebrating the contributions of mental health advocates not only boosts their morale but also inspires others to join the movement, creating a collective force for change.

Improving mental healthcare accessibility and quality in Africa is a long-term endeavor that requires commitment from governments, healthcare providers, communities, and advocates. It demands a holistic and culturally sensitive approach that recognizes the diversity of experiences and challenges across the continent. Collaboration, education, and advocacy are essential elements in the journey toward achieving mental health equity in Africa

Many young African women look up to you as a role model. What advice do you have for them if they aspire to make a difference in the field of mental health or advocacy in general?

Being looked up to as a role model is both a privilege and a responsibility. To the young African women aspiring to make a difference in the field of mental health advocacy or advocacy in general, I offer not just advice, but a roadmap—a guide to navigate the challenging yet rewarding path of creating positive change in the world of mental health. Here are some essential pieces of advice:

Young African women aspiring to make a difference in mental health advocacy possess incredible potential so by embracing their unique voices, continuously educating themselves, respecting cultural diversity, building supportive networks, developing resilience, leveraging technology, practicing empathy, fostering innovation, celebrating progress, and staying patient and persistent, they can create a meaningful impact. 

Together, they can reshape the narrative surrounding mental health, challenge stigma, and advocate for accessible, high-quality mental healthcare in Africa. 

Empowered by their passion, determination, and collective efforts, they can catalyze transformative change, shaping a future where mental health is prioritized and supported, fostering healthier, more compassionate societies.

The young African woman should remember that advocacy is a journey, and change can take time. I will advise she stays committed to her cause, remain passionate, and be adaptable in her approach. 

Overall, collective efforts as African women will contribute to positive change and make a meaningful impact in the field of mental health or any area of advocacy they choose to pursue.

How can individuals, particularly African women, support your efforts in promoting mental health well-being and breaking the stigma surrounding mental health issues in Africa?

African women play a pivotal role in promoting mental health well-being and breaking the stigma surrounding mental health issues in Africa. They can support my efforts through education, storytelling, creating safe spaces, fostering inclusive conversations, supporting mental health services, empowering youths within their communities, promoting culturally relevant interventions, challenging discrimination, mobilizing community leaders, and prioritizing self-care, African women can drive significant change. Their collective efforts can create a society where mental health is understood, accepted, and supported, paving the way for a future where individuals living with mental health conditions receive the compassion, care, and respect they deserve. Together, African women can lead the way towards a more empathetic and mentally healthy Africa, fostering a society where everyone’s well-being is valued and nurtured.

African women, in particular, can use their roles as caregivers, community leaders, and advocates to create safe spaces for discussing mental health issues and challenging stigma. By taking these steps, individuals, including African women, can contribute to the broader effort to promote mental health well-being and create a more inclusive and supportive environment for those affected by mental health challenges in Africa.

Maymunah, what is your vision for the future of mental health advocacy in Africa, and what steps do you believe need to be taken to realize this vision?

The future of mental health advocacy in Africa holds the promise of transformation—a future where stigma dissipates, resources abound, and compassionate care is accessible to all. In this vision, mental health is not just a topic discussed behind closed doors; it is an integral part of public discourse, healthcare systems, and societal values. As an advocate deeply committed to this cause, my vision encompasses several key aspects, each requiring concerted efforts and strategic actions to turn it into reality.

My vision for the future of mental health advocacy in Africa is one where mental health is prioritized, destigmatized, and integrated into all aspects of society.I envision a future in which individuals across Africa have equitable access to high-quality mental health services and support, regardless of their background or location. To realize this vision, several critical steps need to be taken:

Increased Awareness and Education: Implement widespread mental health education programs in schools and communities. Raise awareness about the importance of mental health, reduce stigma, and promote early intervention.

Community-Based Mental Health Services: Develop community-based mental health programs that provide accessible, culturally sensitive, and affordable care. Empower community health workers and traditional healers to play active roles in mental health support.

Workforce Development: Invest in training and expanding the mental health workforce, including psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and social workers. Create opportunities for specialized training in child and adolescent mental health, trauma care, and other critical areas.

Integration of Mental Health into Primary Care: Integrate mental health services into primary healthcare systems to ensure that mental health is treated as an integral part of overall well-being.

Policy Reforms: Advocate for mental health policy reforms at the national and regional levels. Push for increased funding, the establishment of mental health laws, and the development of comprehensive national mental health strategies.

Telehealth and Technology: Embrace telehealth and digital solutions to reach underserved and remote areas, making mental health services more accessible and reducing geographical barriers. Example of such innovation is our HOWBODI telemedicine platform where individuals can receive culturally appropriate therapy on the go. This has led to the development of the HOWBODI mobile counselling booths we deploy to hard to reach and underserved communities. It’s available on both google and apple stores.

Empowerment of Women and Youth: Support initiatives that empower African women and youth to become mental health advocates and leaders in their communities. Address the unique mental health needs of these groups.

Research and Data Collection: Promote mental health research to understand local needs, cultural contexts, and effective interventions. Collect data to inform evidence-based policies and practices.

Collaboration and Partnerships: Strengthen collaboration between governments, NGOs, international organizations, and the private sector to leverage resources, share best practices, and expand mental health services.

Cultural Sensitivity: Develop and promote mental health services that respect and integrate cultural beliefs and practices, working closely with traditional healers and religious leaders.

Youth Engagement: Encourage youth engagement in mental health advocacy, policy development, and service provision. Support youth-led initiatives to destigmatize mental health.

Addressing Mental Health Inequities: Address mental health inequities that affect marginalized communities, refugees, and internally displaced persons. Ensure that mental health support is inclusive and accessible to all.

Promote Resilience and Well-Being: Promote mental well-being as a public health priority. Encourage healthy lifestyles, stress management, and resilience-building in schools, workplaces, and communities.

Monitoring and Evaluation: Establish robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to assess the impact of mental health programs and ensure transparency and accountability.

Global Solidarity: Collaborate with the global mental health community to learn from best practices and innovations around the world and to advocate for global mental health equity.

Realizing this vision will require commitment, persistence, and collaboration from various stakeholders, including governments, healthcare providers, advocates, and communities. By working together and prioritizing mental health, we can create a future in which mental well-being is a fundamental part of the African identity, and individuals receive the support and care they need to thrive.

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