The importance of a stable mental health condition cannot be overemphasized. Mental health is one of the most neglected health conditions in the African continent and this can be attributed to ignorance and the stigmatization against individuals living with mental illness. In this exclusive interview with African Leadership Magazine, Dr Dayo Ajibade, Executive Director of Brain and Body Foundation, elaborates on the realities of mental wellbeing in Africa. Excerpts.
What informed your decision to establish the Brain and Body Foundation?
Well, I saw all kinds of conditions that I felt were very tragic. Parents were suffering, children were suffering. I came across some tremendous breakthroughs in the field of mental health in the United States and I feel I have a responsibility to address these conditions. So basically, the need was out there and I have always been very interested in the brain.
In Africa, children living with autism are often undiagnosed or wrongly treated. You recently suggested a nutritional approach to deal with this disorder. Kindly shed more light on this.
It’s not just a nutritional approach. It’s what I would refer to as a strengthening approach to dealing with these conditions. What we have seen is that certain parts of the body are adversely affected with autism; it’s not just the brain. We now know that the digestive system, immune system and even the detoxification system are affected. So we curate a safe approach to address those affected systems. Nutrition is one of them but we also have to remove certain things from the body in order for nutrients to work better. We use nutritional supplements to repair damages in the guts, brain and liver.
Brain and Body Foundation is committed to sensitizing the public about neurological disorders, causative factors and treatments. How has your organisation fared in delivering its mandates?
It was a bit of a struggle at first but we have been fortunate to be on all the major TV networks in the country, showcasing what we have done and what we are doing. We are currently airing a show that introduces these issues. I would say we are not anywhere close to where we need to be. There’s definitely a lot of room to grow – the online and social media fields still need to be worked on in order to push out more information to the public.
From your viewpoint, do you think mental health is being accurately portrayed on media platforms?
I think there’s a lot of effort being put out there. For instance, there’s an organisation called Mentally Aware Initiative (MANI) which a young man is really pushing to raise awareness on mental health. The government should also support such initiatives. In West Africa, we tend to have high incidences of mental health conditions and of course, stigmatization is a problem. Also, there is a cultural perception and fear of seeking mental health professionals. People just don’t want to be associated with mental health issues. There’s still so much more to be done.
How would you describe the responses of African citizens in respect to therapies and treatments?
There’s still that extreme fear of being labelled as mentally ill. A lot of people have simply refused to seek help even when they know they need to do so. Their attitude towards treatments and therapies is far from adequate, in my opinion.
What are your top five productivity secrets?
Knowing that there is a way to help people who have lost hope, after seeing results, gives me a strong push to do more. I play squash, that helps me stay sharp. I always carry a notebook and a pen around so I can jot down my thoughts or things I need to remember. I also make sure I eat good food. I love reading. Reading is basically a way to tap from the knowledge of others, adding to what you already know.
What advice do you have for those who see you as an inspiration and wish to invest their time and skills in your line of career?
I would say, as early as possible, seek mentors. Create networks with people and try to form alliances. You should try as much as can to be approachable. Don’t present yourself as an overly smart person because if you do, there are so many opportunities that should come your way but would not. Always stay curious, seek to learn and be passionate about your profession. Go out of your comfort zone and gather knowledge. I did a lot of travelling when I started this foundation to improve what we are delivering and in the process, I was able to gather vital lessons and solutions to the conditions we are dealing with right now.
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