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Doc Ayomide: 7 Ways Nollywood Might Be Misleading You on Mental Health Illness

Doc Ayomide

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Nollywood has stepped up plenty in the last decade or so, and become we can be proud of. From oldies (sort of) like Ije and Figurine, to recent hits like Half of a Yellow Sun and October 1, we’ve seen better and better movies and TV shows.

But there’s one area Nollywood — and Nigerian TV in general — still falls short. (No prizes for guessing which!)

Mental health.

Honestly, if Nollywood and Naija TV were our teachers, and mental health our curriculum, we’d all barely make it past Primary One! And that’s sad, because media has such a huge influence on how we see and think about things. (I’ve written before about how even Tinsel isn’t exempt.) It’s a massive opportunity just down the toilet.

But today’s not the day to rant. Today, I want to talk about what we might wrongly believe about mental health and illness if we actually believed Nollywood (and Nigerian TV as a whole — although I bet it’s probably not too different with other African countries).

Anyway, in no particular order, here are the top 7 myths from Nigeria’s film and TV scene…

People with mental illness are violent and unreasonable
Okay, I know I said these things are in no particular order, but this might well be number one misconception our media reinforces. I’ve written a series of articles on this (here, here and here), but suffice to say here that it’s simply NOT true. People with mental illness are no more violent than anyone else.

Mental illness makes people dumb
“Dumb” as in lacking sense, I mean. This misconception is connected to the first one, but it’s slightly different: it’s the idea that mental disorders make people act stupid. On the contrary, though, mental illness doesn’t necessarily affect intelligence. I once saw a chap faking mental illness — you know how I knew? He was acting silly!

There’s only one type of mental illness
Almost every instance of mental illness on Nigerian media is the same type. You’d totally be forgiven for thinking “mental illness” was only one specific diagnosis. But it’s so much more. Yes, there are disorders (and they’re not that frequent) that make people act strangely (although the way they are portrayed in media leaves much to be desired).

As for the commonest mental disorders, depression and anxiety disorders: how often do you see those? And would you ever have guessed how frequent they were from watching TV? Almost certainly not.

Mental illnesses come from curses
Our number one top cause of mental illness would probably be curses. It might be different in cities like Lagos and Abuja (but is it really?). In our less urban areas, though, curses are a major risk factor for mental illness.

People are sometimes thrown out of home because the family didn’t want the curse coming on them. (I kid you not.) And even when the person with a mental disorder is accommodated, it’s often at arm’s length. You know, just in case – which is sad, because these things are medical problems.

This also ties in to the next Nollywood-perpetuated belief…

Mental illness is not a reason to go to the hospital
It’s not like you ever explicitly hear this said, but besides Tinsel (which must be commended for trying in that area), how many movies or series have you seen where someone with mental illness was treated in hospital? (I’m serious, let me know in the comments where that happened.) Typically the first visit is to religious or traditional healers. (Which fits with believing it’s caused by a curse, right?)

The problem with that? In my real-life work, few people come to the hospital without having spent time trying out other options. Except that’s usually enough time for the problems to significantly worsen. Medical treatments are available for many mental disorders, contrary to what you might think, they actually work. Think about that.

Mental illness is caused by hard drugs
Most psychiatrists are familiar with this one. We often see people whose families are convinced that they are using hard drugs for no other reason than that they’re mentally ill. When movies don’t show people with mental illnesses as being cursed, they show them as having used drugs. But many people use drugs without becoming ill, and many become ill without using drugs. (That’s many as in millions.)

Mental illnesses are sudden
You know the typical scene when someone first develops a mental disorder, right? It’s always sudden. One minute the person is acting normally, and the next, everything’s out of whack.

Not in real life. In real life, it takes weeks and months, sometimes years. It’s rare that it happens in days, and even then, suddenness may point to a more physical problem.

So what do we do about all this?

First, let’s get this straight: our media isn’t really the problem. It’s not like these beliefs are new – they mostly existed before. They’re not so much instilling them into people as perpetuating ideas we already have.

And that’s the real issue. Media has the power to influence our views, and when those who are behind it only address stereotypes instead of the complexity of reality, everyone loses.

This isn’t new. The battle against stigma in HIV/AIDS was won with the help of the media. Media helped to fight the misconception surrounding it (such as HIV/AIDS not being a real thing). But imagine how messed up it’d have been if HIV/AIDS had been depicted in ways reinforcing our wrong beliefs about it.

That’s exactly what still happens with mental disorders.

So no, our media isn’t the problem; but they aren’t being part of the solution. They can be, and they should. Because we deserve better, and we should demand better.

Question: Have you yourself had any of these ideas about mental disorders, whether from movies or TV or from other sources? Which of them do you still hold on to?

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Rocketclips, Inc.

Dr Ayomide Adebayo is a medical doctor, mind health consultant and founder of Maximise Your LIFE, a community for people who want to live to the full. Grab your copy of his FREE resources here — plus instant access to his potentially life-changing email course!He writes at DocAyomide.com and tweets @DocAyomide. To ask a question, book a session — or just say hello — simply e-mail him ([email protected]).

24 Comments

  1. Missy J

    March 19, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    LOL so right. Also the healing is sudden. You’ll just see small strikes of thunder over the person’s head, then he falls to the ground and starts convulsing after that phase the person’s consciousness becomes clear and he then calls whoever is there eg Mama Mama! I’m well!
    Nollywood I hail thee.

    • morsadh

      March 19, 2015 at 1:16 pm

      @Missy J, LOL

  2. $exyD

    March 19, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Doc, try and watch yoruba films…they try more than other parts of nollywood when it comes to portraying mental illness…at least I’ve seen 3different films that brought freshness to that angle but that aspect of nollywood been giving the right projection. I’m not being tribalistic.

  3. $exyD

    March 19, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    *has not*

  4. oy

    March 19, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    ..honestly

  5. lotusflower

    March 19, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Great article. And it’s not only mental health, these movies sometimes spread false information about other health issues. When I am watching certain scenes, I sometimes cringe, wondering if the filmmakers bothered to do proper research. Films and television can be an important source for information, especially for those who do not have the opportunity or access to other sources.
    The worst offenders used to be HIV related films. These films used to show drs giving false info to patients. Equally as bad, they were sometimes shown announcing a patient’s confidential hiv status to parents, friends, anyone who asked. Lol

  6. masked

    March 19, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    I heard recently of a woman who started loosing at Ikeja or so…she seemed to be normal one min and d next she was going nuts.

  7. Ba

    March 19, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    The doctor, you have a bright idea. Most mental illness Nollywood portray are the sudden time, like a spiritual or hypnosis type but in reality, it is not always so. Fourth kind is a good example of what you are saying I guess.

  8. Babymmm

    March 19, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Thank you so much for this article. I feel like we dont talk about mental illness enough in Nigeria. I have seen first hand all the points you raised play out. 5 years ago, my brother suffered a terrible deppression and for 4 years nobody knew what the problem was because he was not displaying the typical nollywood style of mental illness. All he did most times was lie in bed, he had lost all zeal and he was very lethargic and always sad. Ppl kept praying and casting demons. I finally did some research and noticed he was displaying glaring signs of depression. I explained this to my folks and how he needs to see a psychatrist asap but they dismissed my notion and kept praying! Finally they agreed, i found an amazing psychatrist in lagos and booked an appointment. It didnt take long for the diagnosis to be depression. Just 2 weeks after takind some anti depressants, we were astonished by his improvements. Although the doc said he may probably need to be on anti depressants for life. Sigh. I just thank God we finally identified he was suffering from a mental illness and got him the help he needed before it was too late.

  9. tunmi

    March 19, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    See when you said oldies my mind went to Kosegbe, Oleku, Yemi my lover, Nneka the pretty serpent, Domitilla, Hostages, Candlelight, Palace, I Need to Know, etc…. Not Ije and Figurine, those came out in 2009 and 2012/13. Those are not oldies.

    #iwannabeaNaijafilmcurator

  10. tunmi

    March 19, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    I so agree. Naija films are rife with misinformation which is a darn accurate representation of many Nigerians. Don’t believe me, stop by battabox YouTube pages and simply watch. Naija media don’t quite realize how much power they have in shaping people’s reality. Things are getting a bit better, but media truly can help improve society. I remember I Need to Know, that show taught me about the kissing disease (mono). The oldies (true oldies oh) were truly cultural (when they did not veer into special effects) and I appreciate Naija films for that (I refuse to use that donated and superimposed term).

    But when it comes to anything medical, it is almost always a fail. Even with pregnancy which several of the people on set have experienced either directly (women) or indirectly (men whose wives carried), yet the representation is so awful. Sanitation is not there, and ethical conduct in disclosing informatuon is not there. The non-mental characters are poorly developed enough, and the mentally challenged characters are abused for comedy. Everything is labeled as going mad.

    • NIBU

      March 19, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      I hate battabox so much, have you seen some of their topics?
      “Who owns the breast; the man or the woman?”
      “How do you deal with a nagging wife”?
      “Who gets more inheritance: Nigerian boys or girls”?
      “Can you marry an hermaphrodite?”(cos you know, people with gender problems deserve to be called hermaphrodites right?)
      “Shocking News: What if your new wife is not a virgin?”

      All hail battabox, always asking the important questions
      .
      .
      .
      *mchew*

    • tunmi

      March 19, 2015 at 6:38 pm

      Lmao but those are serious cultural and societal questions. Let’s take “who owns the breast?” The answers are an indication to how Nigerians see breasts and their opinion on breastfeeding. It also tells about how women are seen. I don’t think anyone of them said the woman owns it (since it is attached to HER chest). Nope, many went to the baby or the man. A woman’s body part does not belong to her, according to some Nigerians.

      Every single one of those questions has value and so much relevance especially with gender equality. With the natter of inheritance, you have men declaring their brothers or family would get it not their wives and/or children. With hermaphrodite, you learn just how Nigerians see the non-heterosexual, non-cisgendered people. With the virginity matter, is that required only of women or also of men? So many psychology and sociology questions and research to glean from battabox.

      And there is also how they answer. Do most Nigerians have a true sense of self or are religious factors heavy. I read one comment about this one video that really infuriated someone. It was on adoption, I think. The user said that Nigerians cannot think for themselves. Majority of those who answered started with “God said” and the person wanted to know “what about YOU? What do YOU believe”. That is another subject that can be explored.

  11. jefka

    March 19, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    ohhhh and the misconception that all those with mental illness wear dirty cloths and eat bread with the nylon wrap and children sing and follow them making fun of them.
    smh

  12. Yinka

    March 19, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    I think Nollywood needs to do better research when it comes to health related issues in their movies. Maybe they think it makes for good TV, but some of these movies decrease your IQ level like kilode. I mean how do you explain a Doctor assessing a patient that comes in with severe abdominal pain by just checking for pupillary reaction albeit the wrong way and give a diagnosis.
    Even simple issues like giving birth and having a miscarriage, they always mess up.

  13. Sylvia

    March 19, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Do Nigerians still watch nollywood?
    Other african nations get excited about it tho. Till date but I barely know little or have minimal information about it or them ( actors and actresses) because the showcasing of ritual houses often times kill me with anger.
    I can’t punish my eyesight with their non-positive content or storyline……can’t just do it.
    My mental state of mind is very important to me and nollywood can surely have negative impact on it.

    • Nollywood Reinvented

      March 19, 2015 at 10:24 pm

      It’s all about perspective. Which movies are you watching? We can help you out with a recommendation on the site if you want one.

  14. http://xplorenollywood.blogspot.com

    March 19, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    Spot on with your article, you talk mental illness, but our media that is Nollywood and tv programmes should talk all forms of illness. I watched that Judy law movie were the wife killed her husband in her sleep and i was like wow! That is an illness and there is a name for it. Lack of research basically kills our movies, as producers, directors or actors dont think they should do much to get the best out in their production. Becos the core focus is an illness, people believe they should get funding or not get into it at all. However i watched Uche jumbo’s ‘False’ and while it wasnt about mental illness, you could see clearly that her disorder wasnt the normal ones we are used too. There was another one with Nse Etim, but the focus again wasnt the illness, with time, i believe they will get there, fingers crossed.

    • Nollywood Reinvented

      March 19, 2015 at 10:24 pm

      Yes, I definitely remembered false when I read this article. Props to Uche, she definitely tries to bring the less talked about issues to the forefront with her movies through comedy and drama. I think the Nse movie you are referring to was “Broken”.

      nollywoodreinvented.com/2014/01/broken.html

  15. Nollywood Reinvented

    March 19, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    Honestly, it’s easy for us to look at nollywood and see how misleading it is with Mental Illness. However, I don’t think this is a strictly Nollywood or Nigeria or Africa problem, I believe it is a worldwide situation.

    Yes, nollywood is very unifocal on the whole mental illness aspect and we mostly don’t explore the more common depressions and anxieties. However, odds are that if a movie was made about someone with depression or anxiety issues the majority of the audience would not be able to relate. Most would call it a “white people problem” or recommend a strong slap to kick it out of the patient.

    The fact is that individuals are grossly underinformed about mental health worldwide. Odds are that every single one of us has met at least one person who has undergone a mental illness at one point or the other in their lives ranging from PTSD to Postpartum Depression, OCD or manic behaviors. We just chuck it off as how that person is and if it happens to us it’s a phase.

    This is all well and good but the difference between the “phase” and those who have to be committed really is just in their coping and support systems. Even here in America, people do not ever want to admit or be connected with their mental illness. We are fine with having a health history of diabetes and hypertension but depression and anxiety is a strict no-no!

  16. TA

    March 20, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Dr Ayomide thank you so much for this article. Nollywood continues to perpetuate falsehood about several issues particularly about mental health. Some years ago I wrote an article on mental health for The Guardian newspaper to commemorate the World mental health day (Oct 10) and got several feedback that showed me just how deep and far reaching stereotypes about mental health are. I have been on a 1-man crusade trying to educate everyone around me about mental health…I wish you will publish more articles on mental health (possibly start a column) to provide basic info that people need.
    Thanks again 🙂

  17. keiskwerd

    March 22, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    Thanks and thanks to the duo of Ayomide and Bella 9ja for opening this discussion! Hope the series continue!
    Good that an ‘arm’ of Nollly wood responded……even though it doesn’t appear to be the ‘main’ nolly wood but it’s a step, means someone is interested enough to sift for feeds and hopefully the message would get back and improvements could be made.
    P.s the link for ‘here here and here’ are all broken o

    • Doc Ayomide

      Doc Ayomide

      March 24, 2015 at 6:42 pm

      Sorry, keiskwerd, The links converted to plain text during publishing, I think. Here are the links you want (just copy and paste them into your browser).

      docayomide.com/2013/07/03/what-depression-is-like/
      docayomide.com/2013/07/11/recognise-depression/
      docayomide.com/2013/07/15/more-ways-to-recognise-depression/
      docayomide.com/depression-africans/

      Thanks for pointing that out!

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