There are many issues Nigerians prefer not to discuss. We have perfected the art of secrecy and keeping up with appearances. The problem with secrecy is it prevents healing. 10 years ago, my guest, Bassey Ikpi was diagnosed with Rapid Cycling Bipolar 2 disorder, which is a mental illness characterised by episodes of hypomania and depression. Bassey didn’t shrink into herself, give up or create an illusion to mask her illness. Instead she became a voice for those living with mental health issues. A voice which allows those with similar disorders to feel safe enough to seek help and dissolves the barriers of ignorance between those who suffer from the disorder and those who do not.
People are afraid of things they do not understand. But how can we understand if we don’t talk about and share experiences. Mental illness in Nigeria is taboo. Our understanding of it is either the description of the undressed man eating from the dustbin across the street or one where family members are hidden away from the world. Bassey is raw and unabated as she describes her journey from diagnosis to living with the disorder. She is open about her methods of coping with the illness but most importantly she talks about the shame and stigmatisation of mental health issues in Nigeria which prevents the mentally ill from seeking help. To her being mentally ill isn’t “who you are, it’s what you have. You are who you are despite the illness”.
I hope this video will go some way in changing (or at the very least challenge) the current discourse of mental illness in Nigeria and allow those with similar disorders the strength to seek for help.
Bassey Ikpi is a celebrated writer, poet and spoken word artist