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Hauwa Ojeifo, a lady in her mid-twenties, is a mental health activist.  A graduate of Business Administration who holds a Master of Science degree in Investment Banking and Islamic Finance from Henley Business School, University of Reading, England. She is also a certified Life, Mind and Mental health coach, and a Neuro-Linguistic Programming practitioner, a fashion enthusiast and serial entrepreneur. The Edo-state indigene, born in Lagos, is the founder of She Writes Women (SWW) where she writes about her experience with mental illness. Four months after she was diagnosed with bipolar 2 and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2015, she decided to speak out and this led to the birth of SWW. According to Hauwa, mental illness does not “just start”, and it is not always the ‘strip naked and run or walk mindlessly around the streets’ syndrome people always expect to see neither is it always written on the face. As a matter of fact, people who are full of laughter should be watched closely – there is a tendency to find that they are, in real terms, depressed and maybe even suicidal. For Hauwa – and one could say with many other people, mental illness is mistaken for the victim’s personality. So, people tend to accept that it is in their personal makeup to experience splutter waves of emotions – this minute they are on a high and the next, they are low, so low that they cannot move a limb. A personality often excused as “being melancholy”. In December 2015, eleven years after she started observing symptoms of her delusional and paranoiac conditions, Hauwa decided it was time she sought help when she noticed that she was having suicidal thoughts. She went to the psychiatric hospital where she was diagnosed with bipolar and PTSD and was thereafter placed on medications. To avoid the denial and stigmatization that comes with mental illness, she did not inform anyone, not even her family members until months later when she ran out of money and medications and she slid back to her suicidal state. She Writes Woman is the platform where she talks about mental health, trying to strip it of the associated stigma and bring it into the sphere of discussions just as with almost every other physical health condition. What served as her way out of  the world of depression and suicidal tendencies has now become a movement of love, hope and support for other women with mental disorders.  Having someone talk freely about it encourages other women to speak out and ask for help. SWW now has a 24/7 helpline which was launched few months after Hauwa founded SWW. On this helpline, she receives calls locally and internationally, helping people with mental disorders and providing them with the right professional help. A staunch Muslim, she believes, however, that mental illnesses are not a result of spiritual problems and the greatest help religious institutions can offer to their members is, preaching to them to seek medical help. She also advises that people should go for mental check-up to know their mental health condition. Hauwa Ojeifo was the only female selected among the three Nigerians to receive The Queen’s Young Leaders Award at Buckingham Palace, London, alongside a network of other 240 Award winners from the 52 Commonwealth countries.   References  

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This article was first published on 31st July 2018

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