Today, October 10, 2022, is #WorldMentalHealthDay and it is important to highlight, once again, how everyone, including the most elevated in our society, is not safe from the abuse and unkindness reserved for people suffering mental health illnesses. Here's a snapshot of how Nigerian celebs suffer so much of that abuse from their 'fans'.
Nigeria's brutal stigmatization of mental health issues doesn't spare celebs
No one deserves to be mocked for their mental health issues, celebrity or not.
Nigerian celebs have not been secretive with their mental health issues. In her 2016 book, ‘On Becoming’, Toke Makinwa spoke about having suicidal thoughts after her marriage crashed.
Adunni Ade, Mr. Ibu and Julius Agwu have also opened up about contemplating suicide. And there are loads more who have dealt with other mental health issues and have been brave to speak about them. Just do a Google search and see how much info you’ll find.
In Toke’s case, what almost tilted her over the edge wasn’t just the disappointing failure of her marriage. It was the galling mockery she had to endure during that depressing phase of her life.
"I was sitting in the bedroom one day,” she wrote, “there was a bottle of Dettol in the bathroom and a thought came very strong: ‘just drink it and die. What’s the point? The whole world is laughing at you right now. Just end it.’"
Mind you, no one deserves to have their mental health issues used as a stick with which to beat them, whether they are celebrities or not. But there is something really warped about seeing these celebs abused this badly even at their lowest.
Social media can be a toxic place, no doubt. The way people are torn to shreds over any and every scandal that makes it there is evidence of that. But that’s just the thing: a person's struggle with mental wellness is not a scandal and should not elicit the same response from us that we tend to bring out during celeb controversies. This seems to be a point lost on many people. For God’s sake, not everything is ‘vawulence’, and not everything is ‘cruise.’
It is maddeningly inhumane that a thing as delicate and nuanced as a person's mental health problem would be severely ridiculed in the manner we have seen in the past few days, particularly concerning the rumoured rehabilitation of Genevieve Nnaji at a facility outside Nigeria.
Details of that are sketchy and she probably wasn't even admitted for psychosis as the claims go— she’s probably not even in any facility for all we know! But the fact that people have, on the basis of those unfounded reports, proceeded to say horrible things about her, shows a very worrisome insensitivity bordering on wickedness.
The possibility that Genevieve - THE REAL GENEVIEVE - could truly be dealing with this, and it didn’t give people cause for pause is very sad, to say the least. Baseless assumptions have been made, evil remarks are aplenty and a lot of uneducated, hurtful opinions have been shared. Social media discourse in the wake of these rumours has been so painful to observe. The abuse has been flagrant and it stinks terribly because it is totally unwarranted.
Think about it: this is one of the people we claim to love the most, someone we stan so hard that we even fight to protect her as a national treasure. A Nollywood icon and movie heroine of LionHeart acclaim. One would think that she'd be cut some slack, right?
A big mental health issue in Nigerian society
f the ones we celebrate can catch this much flak and dragging for a thing that’s out of their control, there really is no hope for anyone and we should all be bothered at how backward we still are on dealing with mental health issues, especially in a world that has been ravaged by the relentless Covid 19 pandemic.
What’s the way forward on dealing with mental health stigma in Nigeria?
More education, and more people talking about it in order to disrobe the shame attached to mental unwellness.
Celebs and other top placed personalities in the media have a role to play here. And like we already showed in the starting paragraphs of this piece, they're already doing their bit in that regard. One of the consequences of this thankless responsibility is that they'd have to face most of the cruelty that people are still wont to show to people with issues like this. And it's pretty sad to see them subjected to it in this manner.
Hopefully, we will get to the point where society — I mean you reading this and everyone else — will be more empathetic to the ones amongst us who are suffering mental health problems.
Maybe at that point, celebs and others who continue to stay open about their mental health struggles can look back and pat themselves on the back for braving it now and doing the difficult job of sharing their mental health problems with people who would hold nothing back when shaming them with it.
This story was originally published on May 12 2022, following rumours of Gevevieve Nnaji's admission to a mentl health facility in the US, and the reactions that followed.
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