‘Don’t wait till you have a mental breakdown before you seek help’ – Hauwa Ojeifo
Hauwa Ojeifo is a certified Life, Mind and Mental health coach, and Neuro-Linguistic Programming practitioner – helping individuals, groups and organisations maximise their potential and performance by cultivating the right thoughts, values, beliefs, emotions and behaviour. She is the Founder and current Executive Director at She Writes Woman – an award winning movement of love, hope and support for women living with mental disorders in Nigeria. She is giving mental illness a voice; taking back the existing misinformed narrative and normalising the mental health conversation in Nigeria.
Hauwa holds an MSc in Investment Banking & Islamic Finance from Henley Business School, University of Reading, England and has a career that spans 6 industries including health, finance, fashion, event planning, retail services and digital marketing.
She is the only Nigerian female recipient of the Queen’s Young Leaders award 2018 by the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and voted as one of the most influential young Nigerians in 2017. The beautiful mental health coach bares it all in this inspiring interview.
I believe my childhood was very instrumental to what I have become. From a very young age, I was taught to value excellence. Resilience was also big for me whilst growing up. It’s no wonder that though I was very unaware of what those teachings would do for me, they have been key to who I’ve become and what I do
I am the last of four children. I’m from Ewu-Ishan, Edo state and I’m a Muslim. I graduated top of my class with a BSc (Hons.) Business Administration (specifics in International Business) from Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun state. I went on to obtain a Masters degree in Investment Banking and Islamic Finance from the prestigious ICMA Centre, Henley Business School, University of Reading, UK and INCEIF Malaysia. I have worked across 6 industries – fashion, finance, health, event planning, digital marketing and retail services – and own and co-owned 4 businesses in the last 10 years.
Venture into the mental health industry
I got diagnosed with bipolar II and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in December of 2015 and it completely changed my life. From delusions to suicidal thoughts, to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness to paranoia ad mild psychosis, I experienced a great deal of the spectrum of mental illness including issues with medications and therapy. What was most profound to me in my journey to recovery was the fact that complete healing didn’t lie in any 1 thing. It had to be a holistic approach. I didn’t set out to become a mental health coach, it happened to me.
When I started She Writes Woman in April 2016, it was purely to serve as an outlet for me and to somehow see if there was anyone who could relate to what I was saying. Today, She Writes Woman has impacted over 7000 Nigerian women directly and over 15,000 women globally indirectly. We run a mental health helpline, monthly support groups, quarterly outreach to psychiatric patients, social media live streams, a creative gift and souvenir store as well as the mind and mental health coaching practice. We have presence in 6 states and counting.
I now talk about my mental illness – diagnoses that are theoretically speaking, incurable – in the past tense because I haven’t had any of my symptoms in over a year. People often ask me how I did it and why their recovery is much more lengthy and cumbersome than mine seemingly was, the answer for me is in how holistic the approach is.
I learnt and got certified in coaching and therapy. I also consult and train individuals and organisations in mental wellness. This is largely because this offers me the opportunity to proffer an integrative and holistic approach to mental wellness. Many people are in an extended state of mental, emotional and behavioural dysfunction because they don’t have a 3D approach to mental wellness. As a mind and mental health coach, I can give you that.
The journey so far
It has been fantastic. People have been overwhelmingly receptive towards the work we do. I often say that considering how quiet the mental health space was prior to when we came in compared to now, I believe lots of Nigerian women were waiting for someone to speak up and echo their silent whispers. When I began to drop bits and pieces of my story, I got a lot of “me too”s in DMs and emails. People make anonymous donations and seek partnerships with us. It was beyond having a medical practitioner talk about mental health, people need to see faces behind the stats and someone to take the lead, and that’s what we did and continue to do.
Being the only Nigerian female recipient of the Queen’s young leaders award
It’s very humbling to be selected as the only Nigerian female recipient of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award 2018 by the Royal Commonwealth Society, Comic Relief and The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. I feel validated for the work I do in the mental health space in Nigeria and to think that Her Majesty has seen that is such an honour. Mental health is so important and this exposure and visibility gives me even more credibility and a much bigger platform to keep doing the good work. I can’t wait to meet the other QYLs across the commonwealth and collectively learn, network and get mentored to create even more impact.
Hmmm…this one’s tricky. I’ve gotten quite a number of prestigious awards and recognition over time which I’m truly grateful for. These are fantastic. What I’ll say are the greatest rewards are the testimonials of people across Nigeria who send in mails and text messages telling me that I saved them from taking their lives or that my story inspired them to speak up and seek help. This is my greatest reward; being the instrument of another person giving life another shot, and not only overcoming their present state but living out their fullest purpose and potential. It reinforces to me that there is truly purpose in pain and as the Qur’an says,’…with every hardship there is ease’. It further tells me that really and truly when a woman decides to unapologetically speak her truth, she gives other women the permission to do same. What’s even most profound is that IF I didn’t step into who I was meant and destined to be, the lives of the people who were tied to that single decision could’ve been lost.
Never giving up
There was never such a time I felt like giving up. That’s not an indication there weren’t challenges, but it just never occurred to me or crossed my mind that giving up was an option to consider. I take what I do very seriously. It’s my God-given purpose.
Who and what inspire me to be better
People often say that I’m “deep”. LOL. I guess that’s largely because I draw inspiration from big and seemingly mundane things and experiences. I must say also, that I’m highly self-motivated even though I understand the impact many spiritual teachers, thought leaders and social entrepreneurs across the world have had on me. I find the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and his companions very profound and highly inspiring. Allah says in the Qur’an (3:110) that “You are the best of nations to be created (as an example) for all of mankind…” I take that very seriously. Excellence is my DNA.
My other projects
At She Writes Woman, we initiated the first-ever privately held 24/7 mental health helpline in Nigeria. It’s a first point of call for mental health first aid, information, finding mental health care around you, caring for a loved one living with mental health challenges, information about healing and recovery, referrals to mental health professionals etc. With the helpline, we have also successfully managed crisis situations like suicide in over 26 women till date.
Our monthly mental health support group – Safe Place – is a confidential and anonymous group that meets to release, be vulnerable and have honest conversations. It’s a healthy mix of professionals, enthusiasts, advocates, victims, survivors and carers.
Hope Visits is our initiative that seeks to reach and empower the most vulnerable people within the mental health ecosystem in Nigeria. By visiting neuro-psychiatric hospitals across Nigeria, we carry the message of Hope for a life beyond the mental health facility. We provide clothing, toiletries, provisions and render skill acquisition programs to empower them socially, financially and economically.
Government not doing enough in mental health advocacy
The short answer is NO and NO. The longer answer is that though the tides are shifting, majority of Nigerians are either uninformed about mental health or ill-informed about mental health. In the area of advocacy, we’ve honestly barely scratched the surface. Our work is very much cut out for us and collectively, we must amplify our voices so as to cause ripple effects and echoes across the country.
The government can do so much more in supporting, promoting and providing mental health solutions. But here’s the thing, we can’t honestly say that Nigerians generally are ill-informed and somehow expect that our lawmakers are better informed. Stigma and prejudice is no respecters of social class, religious or cultural orientation, gender or position held in society. The very people who occupy positions in government are also a product of generations of misinformed narratives about mental health. Mental health problems – be it structural or social – are a Nigerian problem, not a government problem. The more we advocate and educate about mental health and the true narrative, the more we cause Nigerians (be it government or otherwise) to unlearn the prejudice and biases they hold toward the space. This in turn will lead to better informed decisions (politically as well) and urgency in mental health care in Nigeria.
Being a woman of Rubies
Rubies are exceptionally durable, they command the highest prices for any coloured gemstone and break records at auctions. Yet they have imperfections in them including colour impurities and inclusions of needles. These qualities of rubies are exactly what I see in myself.
People using bitterness and toxic behavior to cover up depression on social media
Hurting people hurt people. And there’s a difference between giving help and receiving help. If help is given to someone who doesn’t want help, they won’t receive the help even though they go ahead to see a therapist or even start taking medications. Let’s also not forget that there’s flat out bad behaviour and there’s mental illness. If we are seeing a spike of bitterness and toxic behaviour on social media, it just means that we too need to amplify our voices of love, hope and support on social media. All they need to know is that there’s a Safe Place. Love is the answer.
Women dealing with mental health issues but in denial
Don’t wait till you have a mental breakdown before you seek help. If you’re wondering whether or not you should seek help for something, that’s exactly the right time to seek help. If you’re worried about being judged by family or friends, come to She Writes Woman Safe Place support group (www.shewriteswoman.org/ safeplace). If you’ll like to make sense of what’s in your mind, please call or whatsapp our helpline on 0817 491 3329. The same way that seeking help when you have malaria seems like a no-brainier, is exactly how it is with mental health. There’s help all around you. You just have to want it. There’s help, there’s hope and you’re definitely not alone. Our social media pages @SheWritesWoman are very good companions too.