Bola, University Student:
Bola was a brilliant 19-year-old Engineering student at the University whose grades were in the first-
class range. His roommates recently observed that he was talking to himself and behaving in an odd
manner. They tried to engage him but when he became aggressive, they reported to the University
Health Services who came for him with an ambulance. He was later referred to the Teaching Hospital
where he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. His parents were invited and counselled by the doctors,
but they were adamant that their son was not having a medical problem. A spiritual leader had warned
them a few weeks back to be prayerful and watch out for enemies. Now it is noticeably clear to them
that his illness is spiritual warfare and the work of ‘enemies’. The parents insisted that he should be
discharged and took him back to the village. That was the last that his classmates heard of him, as he
never returned to school.
Fast forward 20 years later, and we discover that Bola is now a shadow of himself as a poor village
farmer and looks much older than his actual age of 39 years. He had spent a couple of years in chains at
a traditional healer’s home but never fully returned to normal functioning. Thus, he joined his parents
on the farm so they could keep an eye on him. They also arranged a wedding between him and a young
girl from another family who was also stigmatized on account of epilepsy. Both families agreed they
would be a good match as they both had disabilities. They now have three children who were not
Tunde was a charismatic medical doctor who ran a successful private hospital in town. He worked long
hours and comfortably provided oversight and supervision for the clinical, administrative, and financial
aspects of his establishment. However, his wife and two children were involved in a tragic accident while
returning home from school, and they died. Dr. Tunde became a shadow of himself and became very
irritable and miserable. Everyone understood his grief and were sympathetic. He became very short-
tempered and would frequently snap at everyone – including patients who have come to his hospital.
He stopped paying attention to details and often appeared distracted and lost in his thoughts. His
friends attempted to step in, by asking him to take a break and go on a vacation but he dismissed such
suggestions. When they became more worried, they suggested a psychiatric evaluation which only
infuriated him more. ‘What do they mean’? He retorted. So, they left him alone. Gradually, his best
hands resigned and left, and the hospital deteriorated and became dilapidated. His income drastically
fell and he decided to close the place down. He took solace in alcohol and locked himself in the house
and drank all day. Eventually, his friends and family decided that they could not just stand idly by and
watch him destroy himself. They broke into the house, with the help of policemen, and brought him to
the hospital for involuntary hospitalization. He was diagnosed as suffering from severe depression with
The onset of mental health problems is often during adolescence and young adulthood. Indeed, about
50% of adult mental health problems would have started by the age of 15 years. Unfortunately, this is
the most crucial period for young people to acquire skills and an education that will empower them for aproductive adulthood and the ability to earn an income. Thus, most of these young persons would either
be in school or in the phase where they are learning a trade, when these mental health challenges knock
them off track, as we see with Bola.
With adequate treatment and psychosocial support, Bola should have returned to the University to
complete his education. Chances are high that if he had graduated with a first class in Engineering, he
would have secured a good job and his economic status would have improved. The same also applies to
the young girl he married in the village, who had no schooling and was married off because she had
Epilepsy. These events may lead to a generational cycle of poverty – as their 3 children in the village are
not enrolled in school.
It is therefore clear that ‘mental’ health is wealth, as demonstrated by the examples of Bola and Dr.
Tunde. We need to dispel the ocean of ignorance, shame, and stigma around mental health problems.
The negative and downward spiral can be avoided if affected persons receive prompt attention and
treatment. They can and should be leading productive and healthy lives. Empathy, support, and
professional intervention are crucial to a positive outcome. We can all play our part. Will you?
The Asido Foundation aims to promote open conversations around mental illness, and we invite you to
support the #unashamed campaign by visiting www.asidofoundation.com/unashamed and taking a
pledge to support affected persons. The campaign is aiming for 1 million signatures. So take the pledge
and invite others to also do the same. Together, we can change the narrative.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 23rd February 2023