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In suffering and smiling … A Nation’s Dilemma, Ogunlowo interrogates mental health



Salem Ogunlowo is a professional therapist. She is a trained integrative and grief counsellor. Salem is a holistic wellbeing enthusiast. She specialises in managing and supporting individuals, groups and organisations struggling with various levels of mental health concerns, including emotional distress. She recently unveiled her book, Suffering and Smiling … A Nation’s Dilemma. She spoke to GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR at the book’s public presentation.

What time did the idea of the book come to you?
Firstly, I feel elated about today’s event. It is a double celebration for me: I’m launching the book, Suffering and Smiling … A Nation’s Dilemma as well my birthday. I feel highly honoured, validated and fulfilled that at the end of the day, the book has become a reality.

Let me give you the background to the book. My journey began when I had the sense of knowledge of witnessing things that were going on in my environment. All my experiences were for this. I put my journey from where I have been and where I am now. The idea of the book was conceived by the passion to be able to give voice to the marginalised. The idea has progressively been coming up since I was a child but came into reality when I returned to the country after my training in the United Kingdom. I saw what was obtainable outside and I felt bringing it home will do justice to what I studied and to my passion.


Suffering and Smiling, what a title? What’s the book all about?
Suffering and Smiling: A Nation’s Dilemma is one book that I will recommend to all Nigerians to read, not because I am the author, but what it contains. A book like this equips you to help the person. It could be somebody suffering from dementia or psychosis. If you have signs of a mental problem but don’t know what the problem is, this book also is for you.

Mental illness affects functioning. Everyone with a mental illness needs to get help. Some years back, the Ministry of Health, alongside the World Health Organisation, said that 12.5 per cent of Nigerians are struggling with mental illness. In terms of presentation at the health care facility, people could come with anxiety disorder, depression symptoms, and it could be alcoholism, although this is common amongst the youth. It takes a defined decision to be able to tell that a person has an underlined psychological illness. Although, it is sometimes very difficult to detect whether it’s not a physical illness.


There is no range or class of people who cannot be victims of mental illness, nobody is spared neither immune. There is a lot of stigma that comes with mental illness so, it is necessary to create awareness for people to know that they need to seek help when they notice any symptom like anxiety, and lot more listed in the book. Although, people tend to see anxiety as normal, there is a stage when anxiety becomes abnormal. Mental illness is not restricted to a certain people or work. Those in health line can also fall victim of mental illness. In fact, those whose line of profession is strenuous in nature are likely prone to mental illness or issues.

The book is a veritable tool in disseminating the existence of mental illness in our society, which is on the increase. It provides information on what to do, on why to seek professional help early and the need to not ‘suffer and be smiling’.

When you see yourself being depressed and you don’t know the cause; you are anxious; you are unnecessarily fearful; that anger that you don’t even know how to be constructive with and is rather directed at your children and wife; the young girl who wants to he as slim as Beyoncé, therefore, abusing food; the youth who, having been raised in a Godly way, but because of peer pressure, is now abusing drugs; those parents who need to know to help that child, this book is for you.

How long did it take you to get it out?
For a book of this nature, because a lot of work went into it, it took me about two years from conception to reality. It’s not a book you rush because of what it contains; it has to do with human psyche. Research was involved, as well ass personal experience. Also, some of my clients also supported me.


What do you intend using this book to achieve?
Firstly, I will implore people to get a copy of the book ‘Suffering and Smiling’ as its self-explanatory. It is a practical search to solving the mental health issues, disorder or challenges that people face. I do not want a situation where the Christians over spiritualise every situation that has to do with mental health. Help is available and mental health issues can be helped medically, mental illness is not a license to death, there is a solution. Therefore, I intend using the book to create awareness for people to reach out for help before it becomes complicated, amounting to depression, and resulting to death.

What is this future for this project?
The future of this project is what you all have come to do with me today, as I cannot do all this by myself. We all know the rate as which the mental health situation is and the COVID-19 has actually impacted a lot. I will need the help of everyone to partner with me in this project and we can only achieve that if we talk more about it, which is actually my slogan ‘let’s talk about it’; Let talk more about mental health, let us not stigmatise or suffer, and let us not pretend neither suffer and smile.

This project is about talking, about mental health and those faced with mental health issues. As individuals, let’s relate, empathise and talk with those with mental issue, as they did not choose to be so. Let us help with all the encouragement and support we could offer to them. Let’s not be selfish, we can start by a hug, talk, smile etc. We let it get complicated by sweeping it under the carpet pretending and acting to be strong. Pretending does not help the situation rather it accumulates and gets worse. We can start this journey together by talking to someone or a close friend, someone you can open up to. It is said that a problem shared is a problem half solved.


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