'I am a survivor of suicide'

Charlotte Underwood with her father

Charlotte Underwood with her father

I am a survivor of suicide, in both the senses.

I have survived my own suicide attempt and survived my father’s suicide.

Ignoring mental illness and letting stigma control what support and treatment people are offered will only result in more fatalities, like my father’s. 

That’s why campaigns like The Samaritan’s Big Listen are so important, listening to someone can save a life.

Losing my dad to suicide opened my eyes to the modern world, how there is a huge stigma attached to mental illness and a huge lack of support.

It hurts me to know that we live in the 21st Century and yet some still pretend that depression, anxiety and other mental illness aren’t real.

I know first-hand how real they are.

I have been struggling with depression and mental illness my whole life, it’s almost as if it is genetic. I am not the only person in my family with it.

I have been told I am a hypochondriac and that my physical illnesses are in my head. I’m scared for the day that I do get seriously ill and avoid the doctor, knowing that I won’t be listened to.

Going through all of this myself is the reason why I completely understand my father’s suicide.

I have never been mad at him and I know that he was trying so hard. For 16 years he tried to get better but he didn’t get the help he needed.

He once told me that I was the only person that understood him, I was an 18 year old girl and that made me so sad. Something needs to change.

Mental illness is just as serious and life changing as any other chronic illness, it can affect your working life, relationships and generally your quality of life, something I know all too well.

By speaking up and talking about mental illness, it gives others in similar situations a support network, somewhere to go when they need someone to understand them, it can make a huge difference, which is why I wrote my book ‘After Suicide’.

I wanted people to be able to understand grief and have a friend who they could relate to, though I feel my book can be so helpful for people who want to understand suicide more.

If I can give someone advice, I would say be patient with yourself or a person with mental illness, stick around and be ready to hold them if they need it but respect their space and time they need alone.

If someone is suicidal I would recommend just sitting with them, be gentle and help them find the words, together you can work through the problems and hopefully save their life in doing so.

If someone is grieving it is so important to understand that each individual grieves differently in their own time, do not make them feel guilty for their actions and tell them that they should be over it by now, it is the worst thing you can ever do.

Someone who is grieving needs constant reassurance and support.

Losing someone you love is the worst feeling in the world but losing someone to suicide can also add confusion and hurt as for some it can be unexpected or sudden.  

Ask someone how they are today and be ready to listen, it can make a world of difference.

    My Little Start-Up

    My name is Emmanuel Ekpo Okon and I am a second year student at the Cross River State University of Technology in the Department of Electrical/Electronic engineering. I hail from Akwa Ikot Efffanga community, Akpabouyo LGA in Cross River State.  My community is one of 10 communities hosting the Lafarge Africa Plc, one of Nigeria's largest cement manufacturers and suppliers of high quality cement.

    As part of the Company’s corporate social responsibility to it host communities, a few students from my community and other communities are selected annually to benefit from an educational support programme of the company. This support programme covers tuition, books and other levies which leaves very little for personal use. Although I was lucky to be nominated and selected to enjoy the support, I had thought on how the little I saved from the financial support could be used to bring more money to take care of other financial issues at school. 

    I have been in the programme for 2 years now. In the first year, an entrepreneurial and life building skills workshop was organised by Gede Foundation – the Consultant managing the education support programme for Lafarge. From the little I grasped in the 2day workshop, I thought outside my field of study and identified a problem within my institution which I could proffer solution. 

    At the end of every semester graduating students and students in dire need of quick money, go from one hostel to another with an intent to dispose or sell off their used laptops, fridges, electronics, personal effects and also to advertise their services such as event managing, catering, salon services and so on. I saw this as an opportunity to come up with an advertising platform within my institution. I knew for a campus such as mine, the best platform would be an application that can be accessed on an android, laptops, java phones and any devices with internet connection, but I have no skill in computer programming, so I shared the idea with a colleague in the computer science Department. From the little I saved from my financial support from Lafarge mava.ng was born.

    Mava.ng is an online advertising platform where students within my campus can place advertisement for their goods and services. It has a unique interface that enables a user to create an account, upload up to 12 pictures of 2.5MB limit of each picture. It also enables a use write about the product and can also chat with me or my partner on the platform. Mava.ng uses zara class theme written in php and hosted on whogo host server. Mava.ng was launched on May 26 2017 and it is accessible with android, laptop, java and other internet devices. mava.ng is not yet an application, it is a website which my partner and Iare still working on in the hopes of developing it further to an app that is downloadable. 

    This is just a start up for me but with formal training in computer programming and graphics, I will be able to birth more ideas to create wealth within my sphere, and also be a role model to young students from my local community.

    Written byEmmanuel Ekpo Okon

    200 level student

    Electrical/Electronic Engineering


    Farewell & Certificate Presentation to Community Based Volunteers

    When the BasicNeeds project started in April 2016, 10 community based volunteers were trained. Along the line however, some dropped out, others found jobs and unfortunately one passed away. At the end of the project, only 5 volunteers remained. These were Mrs. Christie Asanaenyi, Shem Mathias Adze, Maryam Bello, Samuel Offiong and Abari Etsu. 

    At the end of the project, only 5 volunteers were awarded with certificates for their immense contribution to the project. It is because of their effort that the project was able to reach out to over 500 users, get treatment for 177, train over 100 and financially empower 43. 

    Below are some pictures and words from the volunteers;

    Thank you to Kizito and Gede Foundation for locating me when this opportunity to help others came about. I will cherish the moments we worked as a family
    — Mrs. Christie Asanaenyi
    I am grateful for the capacity building I got as I went through a lot of trainings which helped me to reach out to more people and help accordingly.
    — Mr. Samuel Offiong

    More pictures from the farewell event

    The Foundation would like to thank all the CBVs for their efforts during the project. Special mention to Elisha Shaibu, who passed away before the project ended. May his soul continue to rest in peace.

    "Gede Foundation is genuine and wants to help the people. They have not asked for money from community members and have delivered on what they promised so far. From this project, I am learning that there are so many mental disorders and people really need help." - Elisha

    "Gede Foundation is genuine and wants to help the people. They have not asked for money from community members and have delivered on what they promised so far. From this project, I am learning that there are so many mental disorders and people really need help." - Elisha

    Gede Attends Inaugural Conference by the Association of Nigerian Health Journalists

    On 13th July 2017, the Association of Nigerian Health Journalists (ANHEJ) held its inaugural conference at Valencia Hotel themed ‘persistent poor implementation of the health sector budget: the role of he media’. 

    The conference kicked off with a brief introduction of participants and sponsors. There was also a panel which included the Honourable Minister of Health - Professor Isaac Adewole, Dr. Aminu Magashi Garba - the president of the Community Health & Research Initiative, Dr. Luther King Fashanu - a representative of Mrs. Bukola Saraki the Founder of the Wellbeing Foundation, Dr. Mustapha Mohammed Jibrin - the Commissioner of Health Niger State and other notable people. 

    Professor Adewole encouraged the media to report on the happenings in the country concerning health. He noted that while things may not be as bad as people may think, Nigeria is nowhere near where the government needs it to be. He further encouraged the media to be ‘watch dogs,’ to question the government where necessary and to bring awareness. Prof. Adewole also mentioned that most of the resources that are allocated to health in Nigeria are donor funded and while that is all well and good, Nigeria needs to be able to fund some of it and not wholly depend on outside donors. He ended by thanking everyone present, unveiled the ANHEJ logo and left soon after. 

    When the minister left, the commissioner of health in Niger State, Dr. Jibrin spoke about the state of equipment in hospitals, most of which are privately owned. He said most of them are obsolete and some people working in the labs are not qualified which brings standard of healthcare to a new low. He acquiesced to what had already been noted that a lot needs to be done but things are moving in a more positive direction at the state level. He urged all journalists to be cautious, truthful and willing to report about health, including mental health.

    Another conference to further discuss the role of the media in the health sector will be held in December 2017. Please follow ANHEJ on Twitter for more updates.

    ‘As a black woman with mental illness my pain is ignored’

    Original article from Mental Health Today

    The stigma surrounding mental illness, compounded with racial stereotypes, can be stifling. And clinicians and mental health professionals are not immune to harboring these biases.

    As a black woman, my pain and discomfort isn’t seen as valid.

    You might be surprised by how people spoke to me while in hospital. Professionals often assumed I had no education, despite my Bachelors degree. It was assumed my father wasn’t in my life, despite him waiting for me in the waiting room. After a suicide attempt when I purposely overdosed on my anti anxiety medication, I was labeled as a drug addict and pill seeker - not someone suffering from severe bipolar depression.

    Being labeled as a drug addict, whether accurate or not, lends to a whole slew of other indignities. Both lay people and professionals can view drug addicts as liars and lacking in character. This showed up plainly in how some clinicians spoke to me. They went as far as to say I lied about the medication I took. They tried to force me to take medicine that I knew caused severe side effects.

    As a black woman, my pain and discomfort isn’t seen as valid. A prime example was when I fainted on an inpatient ward after trying to tell the nurses that I didn’t feel well and being ignored. I was promptly scolded for “overreacting.” I’ve watched doctors ignore other black female patients who are trying to relay that a medication causes horrible side effects, only then for them to be forced to take the medication and get ill.

    As a teenager I was effectively mute at times because of my illness. Speaking was, for lack of a better word, painful. However, I was still able to show fear, depression, disapproval and anxiety in other nonverbal ways.

    Would he have done this with a little white girl?

    I recall a doctor appointment with a new psychiatrist and both my parents sat in on it. My mother did most of the talking, explaining my behavior and history. All was going well until the end of the session when the psychiatrist asked for a hug.

    What professional asks for a hug from their patients, I don’t know? What I do know is that when he approached me I started crying and shaking my head. He kept approaching and I was backed into a corner on the floor crying as my parents ripped into him about his unprofessional behavior.

    Would he have done this with a little white girl? I don’t know. But the history of racism and white privilege makes me wonder that perhaps he wouldn’t.

    During my late teens and early 20s I had to go to a mental health clinic, due to insurance. I was treated like a guinea pig most of my time. The appointments typically lasted no more than 10 minutes and little was ever resolved. These clinics were packed with people of color, clearly just hanging on by a thread.

    The only way to start my journey to get proper care was by finding a black female private therapist

    After years of experiencing micro aggressions because of my race and being spoken down to because of my illness, I stopped seeking help for a period of time.

    This was both a gift and a curse. Firstly, it exacerbated the symptoms of my illness to a fever pitch. However, this was the only way I was able to start the journey to get proper care, by draining my finances to go to private practices and also find a black female therapist.

    I feel that race has played less of a factor in my treatment with private doctors. But I also recognize that these very same doctors and others like them are inaccessible to many people of color. They are extremely cost prohibitive.

    I recognise the privilege of having supportive parents that can shoulder either the cost of treatment or tackle the bureaucracy of insurance companies.

     Race coupled with mental illness, creates a unique set of problems.

     These problems are often discussed by clients, but the people that need to hear just aren’t listening.

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    Following an invitation from the White Ribbon Alliance Nigeria, Gede (represented by Mr John Minto and Mr Godwin Etim) met with the Acting President of Nigeria and the Honourable Minister of Health at State House on Friday June 30 2017. During the courtesy visit (full details can be seen here), the Acting President signed a pledge focused on ensuring that both Government and citizens play their part in ensuring ‘safe motherhood’ for all women in Nigeria.
    The White Ribbon Alliance Nigeria is one of the country’s leading advocacy agencies and has recently approached Gede to discuss ways in which our two agencies might work together to support the mental health needs of women – most particularly in terms of post-natal depression. As Gede’s Managing Director, Mr John Minto noted, “courtesy visits are an extremely important part in raising awareness about key issues to major stakeholders. The Government’s focus on encouraging citizens to become involved in holding health services to account is also an important part of ensuring that appropriate serves, including those for mental health, are delivered at the community level. I am delighted to be working with our friends at the White Ribbon Alliance and look forward to developing post-natal depression initiatives in particular with them”.

    NCDC/NFELTP Conference 5th – 7th July 2017, Abuja: How training “disease detectives” can help Nigeria better prevent epidemics

    In the wake of the Ebola and Lassa Fever outbreaks in Nigeria and the larger West African region, the work of “public health disease detectives” more formally called field epidemiologists, has increasingly come to light. Field epidemiologists are the foot soldiers in tracking and analyzing disease outbreaks before they become widespread, and their work provides valuable information that can be used to determine not only where the next outbreak might happen, but how it may be prevented.

    They are trained to gather medical and health information from the field, from research or from historical data. They analyze the cause of disease outbreaks in order to help treat existing diseases and prevent future outbreaks. They use their findings to develop public health initiatives and to discover how diseases originate and spread and how they can be treated. They are thus invaluable in protecting the public from the spread of infectious diseases.

    The organisation tasked with training these disease detectives in Africa is the African Field Epidemiology Network headquartered in Kampala Uganda but with operations in 33 African countries including Nigeria. Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP) are typically run within the Ministries of Health . The oldest program in Africais the Zimbabwe program created in 1994. Subsequently, FELTPs have been  implemented in several African countries as a strategy to create a public health workforce that could holistically operate surveillance and response systems for different infectious diseases. In Nigeria,  the FELTP was established in 2008,. Nigeria FELTP (NFELTP)is a collaborative effort between the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), University of IbadanAhmadu Bello University and the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET). The program is supported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The NFELTP has three distinct tracks, the medical, veterinary and laboratory tracks, and trains applied epidemiologists with an emphasis on the “One Health” approach. According to the United States  Centers  for Disease Control and Prevention , “One Health recognizes that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment. The goal of One Health is to encourage the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines-working locally, nationally, and globally-to achieve the best health for people, animals, and our environment.”

    Why is training according to the “One Health” approach important?
    The One Health approach is important because 6 out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) sees One Health as ‘a holistic vision to address complex challenges that threaten human and animal health, food security, poverty and the environments where diseases flourish’.

    The approach recognizes that although diseases do not always originate with humans, as we come in contact with our environment, the potential to transmit disease is increased. Examples of diseases that affect human beings but originate with either animals or the environment include Avian influenza (bird flu),  Meningitis, Polio, and Lassa Fever and Ebola. Taking these factors into account when tracking and analyzing the causes of disease helps epidemiologists have a clearer picture of how diseases are spread and as a result allow better preventative measures and controls to be put in place before disease spread gets to epidemic levels.

    The benefits of training using the One Health approach include early detection of threats and a timely, effective and rapid response; more effective disease control and biosecurity measures, often related to infectious diseases; a cost-effective reduction in disease transmission and incidence, and cost savings through sharing resources; and finally, a reduction of disease risk for humans and animals.

    In a bid to create a platform for our “disease detectives” (epidemiologists) and public health physicians to share their scientific work with the larger public health audience, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and NFELTP will host their 2nd  annual scientific conference in Abuja from the 5th  to the 7th of July 2017. The Conference will be held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.

    The theme of the conference is “Strengthening One Health through Field Epidemiology Training.” Dr Patrick Nguku of NFELTP points out the rationale for this year’s conference. “This year’s conference theme is borne out of the need to demonstrate utility of the One Health approach beyond training. Institutionalization of one health in disease prevention and control efforts in the Ministries of Health and Agriculture will help in addressing important public health issues at the human-animal interface. These include, but are not limited to, zoonotic infectious diseases, food safety and antimicrobial resistance.”

    He said that the conference will give field epidemiologists an opportunity to share their professional work with the wider public health audience. “NFELTP residents, graduates and other public health experts will highlight findings from their applied epidemiology field activity projects which include outbreak investigation, surveillance, secondary data analysis and planned protocol-based studies. This will emphasize the applied nature of training towards using field epidemiology to solve pertinent public health issues.”

    The NCDC, which is a co-covener of the conference, coordinates the response to the challenges of public health emergencies and enhances Nigeria’s preparedness and response to epidemics through prevention, detection, and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases.

    Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, CEO of NCDC said the conference is important because “Field Epidemiologists are at the heart of all that we do at NCDC and this conference will enable us bring together the science and practice of the work that we do”.

    There will be a pre-conference One Health meeting on July 3rd and 4th. The objective of this meeting is to review all One Health efforts in the country and plan on how to best coordinate these efforts and ensure that all the One Health (OH) goals are achieved.

    The One Health approach will allow Nigeria’s disease detectives to better protect us all from potential epidemics. We hope that this conference will strengthen the efforts of both the NFELTP and NCDC towards that goal.

    To register for the conference please click here. (Kindly note that the conference fee is ten thousand naira (10,000) for participants who are not Residents and  five thousand naira (5,000) for Residents without  presentations.)


    When I'm Having a Bad Day Everything Feels Overwhelming

    Blog culled from here

    Rae Ritche talks about what bad days feel like when living with anxiety

    I’ve spent the last couple of weeks questioning the correct length for toe nails. With my feet exposed in sandals, I’ve wondered whether every person I’ve encountered – from family and friends to strangers in shops – has been assessing my ungular choices. 

    This kind of behaviour isn’t limited to toe nails. I’ve done it with heel heights and fingernails, even cuticles.  There probably isn’t an aspect of personal appearance, however small, that I haven’t interrogated at some point.  

    I believe this behaviour is profoundly connected to my mental health.

    When I’m going through a difficult patch, or even a rogue bad day, everything appears overwhelming. I struggle to cope with what’s going on around me or within me. 

    I feel I simply don’t know enough about life to function properly, as if everyone except me received a manual on how to be a human. 

    I lose confidence in my ability even to do those things that I can usually manage.

    At times like this, I grasp at anything with an air of certainty about it. I’ll devour magazine columns, self-help tomes and ‘try this’ tips of all kinds. I want clear instructions. I want to be told what to do.

    There’s no shortage of sources out there happy to meet this need.  There’s prescriptive advice available for every aspect of life imaginable.  I know because I’ve read it – read it and believed it (or at least suspended cynicism long enough to give it a go). 

    I’ve applied Marie Kondo’s methods to my socks, done a life laundry of my possessions, made it to Inbox Zero and a whole lot of other stuff that doesn’t have a catchy name to accompany it.

    I cling to these admonitions as a form of protection, harbouring the vain hope they’ll keep me safe.    If I reorganise the kitchen cabinets in the right way or buy a pair of reusable water bottles or put all my postcards and tickets in a scrapbook then everything will be okay!  All my problems will be solved!

    How could I possibly still feel overwhelmed by mental health issues if I’ve sorted out every aspect of my life in accordance with the advice I’ve read?

    Of course this is a flawed way of thinking.  Overcoming mental health issues requires more than a few nifty organisational tips.  Life can’t be lived according to a ten step ‘how to’ guide.  But when I’m struggling this logic returns. 

    Next time it might be arranging my books by colour or only wearing white shirts for a month.  For now, it’s trying to figure out the right length for toe nails. 

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    Awareness on Mental Health at Adherence Counseling Training in Suleja, Niger State

    Gede Foundation and Management Sciences for Health (MSH) jointly trained 15 HIV/AIDS Adherence Counsellors and State focal persons in Suleja, Niger State, from 13th to 16th June 2017. Participants were selected from the Federal Capital Territory, Kebbi, Kwara, Niger, Sokoto and Zamfara States.

    One of the objectives of the training was to explore the possibility of integrating mental health into routine ART services of Adherence Counsellors and overall health seeking behaviour—a discussion that is now consideredas important following a number of research articles that suggest a link between the two in terms of attaining significant viral suppression.

    Dr Cynthia Ticao (Performance Director, Research and Advocacy, Gede Foundation) raised awareness about mental health and explained, at different sessions, the significance of mental health in HIV treatment outcomes especially in terms of treatment engagement and adherence. Results of the recently published research article from the joint study between Gede Foundation and the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN) on the ‘Prevalence of depression, alcohol abuse, and suicidality among people living with HIV-AIDShelped participants to relate more on thedangers of not addressing common mental health disorders (CMDs) in HIV-AIDS management—a position where Adherence Counsellors remain central.

    Participants shared experiences related to their work and recognised the need to pay more attention to mental health conditions among the patients’ community especially because it has gained greater coverage nationally and internationally over the last three years, which is reflected in Sustainable Development Targets and also in the National Strategic Framework forHIV-AIDS Services Delivery (2017-2021). 

    The training ended with two conclusions, (i) strong realisation for the need to integrate mental health services into HIV-AIDS care and support among participants and, (ii) Gede and MSH to explore possibilities of creating an effective partnership for a sustainable capacity building programme through the treatment and care continuum for HIV- health workers in order to achieve the overall goal of increasing treatment adherence and retention in care for people seeking ART services.