The rate at which Nigerians are committing suicide is on the increase. This, expectedly, has become a major talking point. Dr. Lucy Chiamaka Okwuma has joined some NGOs to bring this menace to the attention of Nigerians through her debut book, Neglected.
The book was launched to journalists in Lagos last Saturday at Patabah Bookstores, Surulere, Lagos, with friends and family members in attendance. Okwuma, a trained optometrist, has elected not to depart from the muse.
She started writing the fiction in 2017 when she did her internship and later completed the work January, this year. Neglected echoes the state of mental health disorders in several parts of the world. It revolves around the struggles of a young girl with bipolar disorder, a mental illness not uncommon but completely foreign to her and her family.
It starts to manifest as attention seeking, hate and resentment towards her parents (in the fiction), but, underneath the surface, all her actions are a cry for help, her typical parents, crazy in love even after several years of marriage, failed to comprehend this sickness.
Against the backdrop of several stories of suicide in Nigeria, ranging from youths committing suicide over depression caused by low Jamb scores, to depression over heartbreaks and depression over severe poverty, the author chose to centre her story on a wealthy family, who, despite their class in society and exposure in life, are unconscious of mental health disorders, almost completely ignorant about it.
Explained the writer, “Neglected came to me as an educative medium to bring awareness to mental health disorders. She chose to emphasise on how mental disorders could be missed, even by the educated and exposed in Nigeria due to certain misconceptions such as the main family in my book, who believes their daughter’s situation was as a result of diabolical ways of the people in their hometown involving juju and charms.
“They basically believed their daughter was under a curse, inherited from her maternal grandmother, who also suffered from depression. Unfortunately, her condition was never managed or treated, and she eventually committed suicide.
“They couldn’t see their mentally frail daughter battling with bipolar disorder and not possessed by a curse she supposedly inherited. Her struggles with that disorder leads to an accident that kills her mother, which leads the story to detailing how inadequate treatment or management of mental disorders could lead to deadly outcomes.”
Okwuma believed mental health disorders treatment and management should be a part of our primary healthcare system. It should be placed at the same level of importance with other health care services. Hence, the earlier the diagnosis of these conditions, the easier the treatment and management.
She was confident that she had succeeded in passing across a concrete information concerning mental disorders via Neglected. Remember, her ambition is to make a positive impact on people’s lives, both young and old, men and women. “For a person struggling with a mental illness unknown to him or her to come across my book and be able to understand his or her struggles and seek help,” said Okwuma.
The book reviewer, Jerry Chiemeke ddescribed Neglected as “a long but important journey into an uncharted terrain.” According to him, “Okwuma’s debut Neglected tells the story of Stephanie Williams, a sixteen-year-old who is the last child and only daughter of her parents.
“Her father and mother are overly expressive about their attachment to each other, and they try to see to the welfare of their children, but Stephanie feels starved of affection, and assumes that they do not love her enough, a view which intensifies after she accidentally overhears her mother saying that her birth was unplanned.
“She is determined to have their attention, and decides to resort to getting it by any means possible, from indulging in teenage romance to cutting herself with razor blade. The novel, set in urban contemporary Nigeria, dwells on a number of themes, including family ties, mental health, modern parenting, sex education and teenage infatuation. There is also enough room in the pages to shed light on marital infidelity, emotional toxicity, domestic violence, systematic corruption, and the dynamics of friendship.
“Neglected is a novel that will be remembered for its content, if not its penmanship, and considering the fact that there are not too many fictional books that address the subject of mental health, this book is as ambitious as it is timely. Okwuma would hopefully grow into becoming a better writer, but she can at least pat herself on the back for serving up this potentially important literary offering.” The reviewer concludes.