Lade Hephzibah Olugbemi is a UK-based Nigerian lawyer, who is worried about the growing incidence of mental ill-health in the society, which sometimes drives people commit suicide. Her passion to turn the tide on this led her to establish a non-governmental organization, NOUS, to deal with the problem, by educating critical voices people through seminars and conferences. In this regard, she recently held a conference on suicide prevention in Nigeria. In this interview, she talks about to how to curb the menace among other things with Sunday Sun.
What inspired you to start NOUS Organization?
I would say so many things but I think the major motivating factor was a personal experience that exposed the fact that we lack lot of information about what mental health issues. I noticed that quite a number of people were going through or had severe mental health challenges but were not going to the hospitals on time. They were not seeking help, maybe, because people felt it was a thing of shame. Stigma is very high and mental illness or anything like depression, bipolar is like a curse. So, lots of people just keep quiet and they don’t want to talk about it. I was really motivated that we had a duty to raise awareness, educate people and also let people know that there are many things we can do to prevent people from becoming mentally unwell. The same way we prevent people from HIV infection.
What are some of your memorable moments doing this project?
The key highpoint for me was when we had one of our seminar sessions. There was a particular segment where we had an open mind session. That was an opportunity for people who attended the conference to ask questions. A lot of people are confused about so many things around mental illness. I think it’s an opportunity to allow people vent their ignorance. It’s an opportunity to be guided and given the right answers as well. I had a session that became extremely emotional. A particular professional was there. It was the first time she actually acknowledged openly to everybody that she had mental health issues. She said that her mother had same issues just as her children have too. For me, it was very memorable. A lot of us are carrying burdens and we are keeping quiet and not able to talk about it. Talking in an environment where you know you will receive the right support and be guided, and you know you are not going to be stigmatized, judged, that for me is really a memorable moment.
What are the challenges you face doing this?
There are several challenges but I take every day as it comes and I see those challenges being surmounted. One of the major challenges we had when we first started was the resistance of people who were initially reluctant to listen to anything that had to do with mental illness in our community. People did not want to know. They just felt that when you mention mental illness you go to your pastor, imam or spiritual leaders and the demons would be cast out. There was lot of resistance from the religious leaders because they just felt one was toying with the devil, wondering why one should be playing with the devil, and asserting that we should just bring the victims to them, to cast out the demons. That was a major challenge. Another challenge we had was inadequate funding. We need money to be able to run a cause, a campaign and at the moment we are not funded. We fund most of the activities we do from donations received from families, friends and the little that trickles in, here and there. The fact I live in Britain was a also a challenge. However, I have an organization that was registered in 2015 in Nigeria, which is called the NOUS Foundation. One of the challenges is getting government backing to change some of the age-old laws that we have.
Suicide is on the increase among young people, why is this so?
I’m glad you asked this question. On September 10 this year we had World Suicide Prevention Day, which was set aside by the World Health Organization (WHO) to promote awareness about the problem. Incidence of suicide is increasing; there are too many reasons causing increase of suicide among our young people. One of the reasons I must say is that a lot of our younger ones are growing up without emotional resilience. They are growing up without having been exposed to situations and circumstances in life to help them cope or to give them the capacity to cope when the stressors of life come. If you look at the definition of mental health by WHO would actually give us a very clear idea of what mental health is. It says: “Mental health is the ability for anyone in the circumstances of life to cope when the stressors of life come. So, what are the stressors of life? Economic, financial, jobs different things could actually be stressors in somebody’s life. Another one factor is the social media. The impact and influence of social media in our behavior is immense. Social media controls virtually every aspect of our lives. The food we eat, what we wear and as how we wear it. Another factor is the break in families. Lots of changes have taken place the family setting in the last 20 to 30 years.
Some of the lessons I believe we can learn from the incidence younger people dying from suicide is the need for parents to go back and recall how we were parented. Yes, we may complain that there were some aspects on how our parents brought us up, but I can say there are lots of ways our parents brought us up that are good. There are more positives than negatives. They regarded the neighbour’s child as their own; it was a system where everyone looked out for each other. Society has become so insular. We have adapted to just become me, myself and I or my husband, my children and I. There is need for parents to change their parenting style. Schools need to recognize that pastoral care has to be more advanced. There is need to allow for evolution of how it used to be, we need to respond to the changes that we have out there.
What lessons have you learnt of life?
Life has taught me so many things. One of the reasons I started the NOUS Organization was because I had a personal experience. It was like an Eldorado moment, when my eyes opened to the fact that life is not black and white. I had grown up all my life thinking life is black and white, either yes or no. That it was either tall or short; you could not have anything in-between. With that you grow up with all sense of perfectionism. I grew up thinking everything had to be perfect. Because of that my standard were so high, such that when I did not reach those standards I got extremely frustrated. Frustrations lead to so many other things. Life has taught me not to take life as seriously as I used to. Life has taught me to see the good in everything that happens. Life has taught me that nothing, no situation is permanent; when you realize that your current situation is not permanent you will strive and change that current situation if it’s not what you want. Above all, you need God on your side. It is important to have God on your side. There’s no way you can go through the toughness of life and not have support from the ‘Divine’ and support from people around us.
How was growing up, any memorable moment?
My growing up in Nigeria was fantastic. I grew up in Aguda area of Surulere, Lagos. The name of the street was 5 Olamojuba Street. It was beautiful and we had no fear of anything. A six year old could walk to the market and come back. You were satisfied with what you had. Your sisters would wear a dress and they outgrew it, they passed it down to you, and you passed it down to your younger ones. I went to the best secondary school in the whole of Africa, Methodist Girls High School, Yaba. The training in the secondary school helped to prepare us for the tough future. I went to one of the toughest universities – Edo State University, as it was known then. We were the second set in the university. I do have fantastic memorable moments in Nigeria
How do you unwind?
I’m a water baby. I love water. I’m sure those who are extremely religious would think I am a mermaid. I love water. I love to walk and I live very close to the River Thames in London. We have a stretch of almost 20 kilometers beside River Thames. I love to take long walks along the River Thames. I love the sea. I love the sound of water, because it helps me to relax. I love to listen to music as well. I love to dance. I don’t do the latest dancing steps, which everybody is doing (Shaku Shaku); I like to make my own statement. I dance the Lade way. I love to read as well. I’m an introvert. I like my own presence. I like to watch a good film, a film you watch with a box of tissue beside you. I love the woods.
What is your take on fashion, are you a designer freak?
I’m not a designer freak. You buy a Louis Vuitton bag, and Louis Vuitton is written all over the bag and you pay so much money for it and you are actually selling the name. For me, it’s a No, No! I’m not a designer freak. I would wear anything that makes me feel comfortable. There’s what I call the ‘Lade Look’. It’s a very unique fashion sense. I don’t wear the trend. I like to stand out and my standing out is not that I want to draw attention to myself. I believe I have a voice and I don’t want my voice to be drowned by many voices out there in fashion statement. When you say something different in your fashion, your voice is louder; you can speak up. I don’t follow fashion trend; I dictate my fashion pace.