When Hauwa Ojeifo 25, was diagnosed of bipolar and post traumatic stress disorder in 2015, she didn’t know how to go about it. She was unsure and anxious at the same time. “What exactly does it mean? Will I live with this for the rest of my life? How do I cope with the stigma? Will I become a social outcast?” were top questions on her mind. Having people around her who didn’t know how to relate with her on the terms of the illness or respond sensitively to her didn’t help matters too.
With medications, exercise and therapy, she pulled through the mental illness and her journey to recovery led to the emergence of ‘She Writes Woman’, a platform that advocates for mental health for women and equips them with information on how to manage it. The platform currently runs an helpline that functions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week catering to the emotional needs of women with mental disorders.
We caught up with Hauwa recently on our Twitter chat series and as well as debunk some misconceptions regarding mental disorders, she also schooled us on how to respond to people living with it. Those lessons are summarized in the following points below
- Depression is an illness. It is characterized by symptoms include persistent low mood, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, lethargy (what many people often mistake as laziness), bleak outlook on life, irritation (often mistaken as anger), withdrawal from social settings and sometimes suicidal thoughts.
- A combination of at least four of these symptoms has to be present in a person consistently for a period of at least 2 weeks before one can say she is depressed.
- Some people are genetically predisposed to depression.
- Mood swings is not depression.
- Women are more prone to having depression than men due to biological factors and socio-economic, cultural risk factors.
- Research has it that even though women are more prone to getting depressed and suicidal thoughts, men are actually more likely to carry out the act itself.
- A large number of people in the Nigerian society, are either unaware or ill-informed of mental health.
- Some journeys you just have to start yourself.
- Weak is not a synonym for mental illness.
- Stigma is a reality. Even those who don’t intentionally want to stigmatise are acting out prejudices and narratives that they have subconsciously been conditioned to believe.
- Every symptom presents itself differently in people. Hence, there isn’t a one size fits all approach to dealing and coping with mental illness.
- Get a solid support system. “We tend to underestimate the power of a circle where everyone is connected by a single story. An outlet that is completely stigma free.” Hauwa Ojeifo
How To Respond To Someone With A Mental Disorder
The worst thing you can do to someone with an invisible illness is to make them prove to you that they’re actually ill.
If you want to support, start by letting them know that you believe them. There’s so much power in validation.
Be mindful of your choice of words. Say “I can only imagine what you are dealing with” instead of “I know how you feel”.
Don’t assume you know what it feels like, instead ask how you can support them.
They are already in a state of self-criticism, don’t put them under undue pressure to lighten up. Instead, listen to them..