How FAM Initiative is building better mental health awareness among Adolescents and Young Persons in Nigeria
By Aisha Gambo
Glory Ernest , a 23 year-old graduate of Microbiology had battled Body Dysmorphic Disorder while growing up as a child, she felt she was not beautiful and had flaws in her appearance, a situation that affected her self-esteem.
Her story changed when she interacted with a Twitter space hosted by Friends Advocacy for Mental Health (FAM) Initiative which helped her in building a healthy mental health coping mechanism.
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance.
A recent study that screened for BDD among patients attending a tertiary institution found that facial flaws were the most common concern, in 62.5% of participants, followed by body asymmetry in 25%.
Body dysmorphophobia is a common disorder, with a prevalence of 0.7% to 2.4% among community samples.
Recent studies confirmed a high prevalence of BDD in dermatology and cosmetic surgery settings with a prevalence ranging from 4.52% to 35.16% and female preponderance.
“My experience with Friends Advocacy for Mental Health (FAM) Initiative was one I desperately needed at the time it came.
“In other words, it came at the right time which I will forever remain very grateful for.
“That space helped me realise I’m beautiful and amazing just the way I am, i don’t have to compare my physical attributes to the societal beauty standards,” she said.
According to the World Health Organization, in 2019, 1 in every 8 people, or 970 million people around the world were living with a mental disorder, with anxiety and depressive disorders the most common.
In 2020, the number of people living with anxiety and depressive disorders rose significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Initial estimates show a 26% and 28% increase respectively for anxiety and major depressive disorders in just one year.
While there is effective prevention and treatment options, most people with mental disorders do not have access to effective care.
According to the President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN), Taiwo Obindo, 60 million Nigerians are suffering from mental illnesses.
Obindo, who stated this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), said that only about 10 per cent of them were able to access appropriate care.
“We are left with more than 90 per cent who are unable to access care and this group is called the treatment gap for mental illnesses.
“The gap is as a result of various factors like the knowledge gap in which people do not have appropriate information about the causes and treatment for mental illnesses,” Obindo said.
Bridging the gap of Information on mental health
In an effort to breach the gap on information about mental health, a young lady, Jecinta Egbim, founded a non-profit organization, the FAM Initiative, in September 2020.
The organization has the objectives of taking quality mental health awareness and services to rural communities and schools targeting adolescents and young people.
“Our Mission is to educate young people on mental health, self-awareness and equip them with coping skills for optimal living.
“In our vision, we aim to create a thriving ecosystem where adolescents and young adults receive robust support and empowerment throughout their mental health journey,” she said.
Egbim stated that the Initiative has incorporated different sectors in its dissemination of information, ranging from the Adolescents Safe Haven club in secondary schools across Nigeria, to its intergenerational and interfaith dialogues.
She said sectors serves as connectors to break through the stigmatization and stereotyping of adolescents and young adults who are seeking psychological support.
She added that the organization has initiated over 10 school clubs in Kaduna state, gone on school tours across local government areas in Kano State and are on the path to launching Adolescents Safe Haven clubs in schools across Gombe state.
Egbim added that the initiative held multiple virtual sessions that were centred around mental health awareness, experience sharing and professional perspectives, which ended with open vulnerability and enhanced compassion.
“We have held interfaith dialogues that strengthen religious institution in offering quality mental health support.
“We have also had community outreaches in order to reduce stigma, stereotyping and misinformation around seeking mental health support,” she said.
The FAM Initiative founder explained that they have held a six months volunteer programme that offers rigorous training on self-awareness, self-actualization and empathy building.
She added that all volunteers were mentally cared for and empowered with adequate knowledge making them ambassadors in their various communities.
Experience of Volunteers
As a Volunteer with the Initiative, Halimat Anakobe, says volunteering helped her develop communication skills, deepen her understanding of various mental health issues and appreciating the importance of mental well-being.
“I volunteered with the FAM Initiative for their July-December 2022 cohort as a social media intern, responsible for managing their Instagram page and creating designs.
“Our social media posts have been effective in sharing information and raising awareness about mental health,” she said.
She explained that the organization genuinely care about the mental health and well-being of their members, just as much as they do for their audience.
Similarly, Miss Ernest, a Community engagement volunteer with FAM initiative says she educates adolescents on the importance of mental health under the Adolescents Safe Haven (ASH) club.
“We teach them how to handle situations, stress and how to relate with their peers in a healthy manner.
“Also, I once taught in a primary 4 class and I started speaking to the pupils during our free hours about the importance of kindness among themselves and they tried to be kind among themselves,” she said.
FAM Initiative volunteers with children after a session on mental health
Giving mental support to adolescents and young people
As a mental health organization focused on creating awareness and building a community of mentally resilient young people, “we do not offer medications or admissions, we only offer mental health first aids and counselling,” Egbim stated.
She said the initiative has supported more than 100 young people and adolescents with psychosocial support since 2020.
‘We treat our humans with love, empathy and compassion. We feel what they feel and support them through their journey in the way they desire us to.
“We have partnered with child psychiatrists and have licenced counselors who offer mental health first aids,” she said.
Egbim explained that the organization refer individuals to better professional support as the case may demand.
She added that they have curated a first of its kind Art Therapy and Art Exhibition event for young children and adolescents.
What are the challenges?
“Our major challenges is underfunding in this field. In order to achieve our goals, we need funding,” FAM initiative founder said.
She explained that the Initiative also faced a community push back from time to time during outreaches due to how misinformed some of the communities are on mental health.
“Their first response to the thoughts is a built up defensiveness as a result of this misinformed foundation; but our approach helps them see it from a more relatable perspective,” she said.
Sustaining the project
FAM Initiative founder says the Art Therapy and Art Exhibition events are fundraisers for the Adolescents Safe Haven club where internal income is generated to sustain projects.
She explained that the organization has not received any support from government yet but had many Partnerships and Collaborations with NGOs, Brands and Schools who helped in the execution of projects.(NAN) (www.nannews.ng)
***This is a project of the Solutions Journalism Desk of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and if used, please acknowledge the writer and NAN.