Chude Jideonwo: The Harbinger of Joy
Often times in life, we have experiences that change our perspective totally. This fundamental truth rang true during this interview with Chude Jideonwo as he spoke about his work in the humanitarian sector. Dressed in simple blue native attire and a smile on his face, he didn’t look like someone who has over 17 years of experience in journalism.
Save his humanitarian efforts, Jideonwo has done phenomenal work in the media space which includes running RED Media—a group of media companies aimed at inspiring youths to take action for themselves and their community comprising of brands like YNaija, Rubbin’ Minds and The Future Awards—and writing reviews for newspapers like The Guardian, This Day and The Nation.
The turning point
The experience that shifted his focus towards the humanitarian space is an elaborate tale. According to him, he had encountered a lot of unhappy people throughout the course of his life and although he wasn’t particularly happy at the time, a lot of these people seemed to be in a far worse state.
In 2007 when he was in Law school, he didn’t know that he was suffering from recurrent clinical depression. This was partly because depression was not a common topic in Nigeria. “I was unhappy for a long period of my life and I was coming in and out of clinical depression which is a state of sustained unhappiness that stops you from performing optimally… this was not just sadness, it was a sadness that made me lose the desire for life and living.” He said.
He struggled with this until 2016 when he had a major incident that lasted for almost six months. “I could not function optimally for a sustained period of time and for the first time in my life; I briefly considered taking my own life.” He said.
Before this incident, he was seeing a therapist and he was in a good place. The therapist had told him that he was on a journey and didn’t really need to see her on a regular basis. She had advised him to keep pushing and moving.
With this in mind, Jideonwo began to work on himself through prayers and reading. This led him to positive psychology, which is the art of teaching people to live happy and positive lives.
“While reading and praying, I realised that the things I was hearing through prayer and the things I was learning through positive psychology were aligning. I thought this was really fascinating because all these things were self-help tools and I didn’t have to see a doctor or take any drugs.” He explained.
Although his situation and the conditions surrounding him didn’t fundamentally change, his mind and heart got better with time. When he finally came out of the depressed state, he felt a strong desire to share his experiences and the knowledge he had acquired dealing with clinical depression. This burden became Joy Inc.
And then there was Joy!
Joy Inc. is a benefits corporation set up by Jideonwo dedicated to helping people live positive, joyful and flourishing lives using positive psychology as a primary tool. It does this by organising events like the Joy masterclasses, Jideonwo and his team tackle numerous subjects relating to mental health, emotional stability and all round happiness using the wealth of research available to them.
Additionally, they sell products and services to people. But he insists that selling those products and services to clients does not make Joy In. a profit-making business. Payments for those products and services go directly into the accounts of selected charity organisations.
“Joy Inc. is a business but it’s a not for profit business so all our profit goes to charities. Some of them go to mental health charities or orphanages,” he said.
Creating a formidable system on which Joy Inc. depends was not enough: his belief in science, empirical evidence became the driving force for most of his achievements with Joy Inc.
“Because I’m neither a psychologist nor a therapist, the first thing I did was to assemble a global board of advisers of some of the best psychiatrists and psychologists across the world,” he said.
Most notable on his global board is Laurie Santos, a professor of positive psychology at Yale and one of the world’s leading teachers on happiness. There is also a committee—made up of mostly Nigerians—who come from fields like social work, public health and nursing that help give Joy Inc. a broad perspective of the type of help that people need.
Listed among the researchers at Joy Inc. are Lisa Miller, who researches spirituality and depression at Columbia University, and Biodun Awonusi, who leads the research on the economics of trust.
Because he is an active part of another business that is a money-making venture, Jideonwo is able to run Joy Inc. from his pocket. This doesn’t mean he criticises the people who run businesses that change lives. For him, he is at a point in his life where any new thing he creates isn’t necessarily for his financial gain.
The Nigerian attitude
The state of mental health in Nigeria saddens Jideonwo. In his opinion, the major problem with Nigeria is the lack of acknowledgement of mental and emotional issues. This is very evident in his personal story as he did not know he was dealing with clinical depression for some time.
But since he started Joy Inc., he has been able to provide more information to people, partnering with like-mind organisations.
“I don’t work on just mental health, the work that Joy Inc. is doing is to try and change the way people see themselves and the way they see the world, he said. “That is broad. It’s emotions, feelings and spirituality.”
But there is still much work to be done. More information about mental and emotional health needs to be made readily available to people.
He said, “The way forward is first by acknowledging that our hearts and minds are sick and that depression is a real thing. The best way to wake people up to depression is to talk about suicides. There is an increase in suicide rates in Nigeria but we never say people committed suicide here. Instead, we say they died after a brief illness and we have no studies to track down the number of people who commit suicide…”
He further explained that Joy Inc.’s major prerogative is to transform the mental and emotional culture in Nigeria. He described himself and the rest of his team as “storytellers” who have the mandate to tell people a new story about themselves.
Speaking about people who are still sceptical or simply do not believe in mental or emotional health issues, he said, “I’m very eager to meet as many naysayers as possible because I want to understand their angles. Fortunately for us at Joy Inc., the work we are doing cuts across various fields and our thinking isn’t just scientific but also philosophical, economic and spiritual.”
He noted that the wealth of information they have across different fields is sufficient to quell any doubts.
Let’s talk about mental health!
By partnering with Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) and SheWritesWoma, n which are organisations that focus on mental health, Jideonwo is able to achieve more, focusing young people, who always get to a stage where they have to choose between fear and faith.
Giving examples that ranged from abuse and emotional pain to general life choices, he pointed out that the issues that young people go through are not physical but mental, emotional and spiritual.
“The choices that people made at that point can either be full of hope, faith and love or of doubt, fear and lack of self-worth. That’s where the work is, we want to help people see the world from a wholesome, fulfilling and loving [the] perspective. It so happens that a chunk of that lies in the mental health space.”
2018 and beyond
In 2018, Joy Inc. has a number of activities in the works. A masterclass was held in January and another at the Lgos Social Media Week titled ‘Your Handle Or Your Life’ where talks were focused on a research that explores how social media steals happiness and affects mental health. More masterclasses are planned to be held in Lagos and there are plans to take the Joy masterclasses to Abuja, Akwa Ibom and Osun States.
Jideonwo added: “I just returned from the Joy Tour. I went across America making the case for mental health in Africa and the help we need here. We’re building a centre of emotional mental health in Lagos that will be managed by Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) and SheWritesWoman, Joy Inc. is helping them raise the money.”
For the year 2019, he said Joy Inc. plans to tour 24 states in Nigeria and to conduct a bigger and better Joy Tour. Jideonwo continues to share his personal experiences via his daily newsletter called The Daily Vulnerable and his weekly blog called West Africa Is A Country.