Mental health representation in the context of this discourse refers to how mental health issues and persons with mental health challenges are portrayed in Nollywood films. The Nollywood industry has been key to the way people with mental health issues are viewed and treated in the Nigerian society. Thanks to the grand acceptance Nollywood films have received since its inception as replacement in Nigerian homes to Indian and Chinese movies.
Growing up watching Nollywood films, the impression I got about people with mental health issues was that they are aggressive, dangerous, and people who should be dreaded. The image movies like Living in Bondage, NNEKA the pretty serpent, painted of the mentally disturbed was that of one who is cursed, an anathema that should be treated with disdain, flogged, held in chains and dehumanised. This appalling attitude has ruled the Nigerian society over the years and the blame for this is largely shared by Nollywood.
I remember one low budget movie I wrote, co directed and featured in some years back, ‘Ndi Ara Igbo’, showing on YouTube, where we portrayed smoking of marijuana as a gateway to madness thereby discouraging its use. Still, I must confess that this movie did not really do justice to the true relationship between marijuana and mental health. I only succeeded in re-enforcing the popular notions, though misleading, about marijuana and mental health while ignoring the medical uses as well as the constructive uses of the hemp plant. Of course, the movie was intended to discourage drug abuse but looking back, I would have added some pieces of knowledge, especially scientifically based to the script. This would have helped generate the right conversations that would address drug abuse and positive use of Indian hemp. That would have been more impactful.
Moving on, I would say that in recent time the Nollywood industry has evolved in no small way from those ABC days of film making. The likes of Damilola Orimogunje, Mo Abudu, Kunle Afolayan, Toyin Ibrahim, Emem Isong, etcetera have really shown what a serious business of agenda setting, movie making is. And they have not slurred in portraying mental conditions as they should be addressed, aiding the advancement of the masses’ mindset in this regard.
Take for instance the 2020 Netflix movie, For Maria: Ebun Pataki. This movie did a decent job at portraying postpartum depression, a condition that has sadly been handled poorly by many Nigerian household due to poor knowledge of what it is all about. Study has shown that one in seven women experiences postpartum depression. This by implication means that there is a tendency someone close to you has suffered it or will suffer it. Someone close to me, my wife actually, suffered it so I could so relate to the movie when I saw it. It is a condition whose symptoms might include insomnia, loss of appetite, intense irritability and difficulty bonding with one’s baby. In this movie, For Maria: Ebun Pataki, a lady named Derin (played by Meg Otanwa) went through untold pain while delivering her baby and as a result found it difficult to bond with her baby. She also gave her husband, Fola, a hard time but Fola (played by Gabriel Afolayan) was a dutiful husband who weathered the stormy phase with a show of unconditional love to his wife while showing signs he understood what was wrong with his wife.
Another movie that is worthy of note is Her Perfect Life, a short movie directed by Mo Abudu. This is an instructive movie about a lady, Onajide Johnson Ibrahim, whose life seemed so perfect, but is suffering from depression which gives her suicidal thoughts. This is a lady who seemed to have a perfect career, perfect home and perfect looks. A far effort is made by Abudu to explore what could trigger one who seemingly has everything going for him or her to suffer depression; a highly underestimated mental condition in Nigeria.
There is also this short movie, Oga John, written by Oje Ojeaga, the CEO of Up in the Sky Ltd, a leading storytelling agency in Nigeria. Oga John explores the mental condition, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This ten minutes movie looked at the frustration one suffering from such condition could face in a place like Lagos. Now, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental condition characterized by excessive thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviours (compulsions), unreasonable thoughts and fears. I, however believe that ten minutes was not enough to address this novel mental condition.
I dare say that this genre of movie making is still in its nascent stage in Nollywood. I therefore encourage film makers and budding screenwriters to research more in the area of mental conditions in the Nigerian environment, especially as it concerns rehabilitation and management. This will go a long way in redressing many misconceptions and poor attitude given to persons suffering from some of these conditions.
The people believe so much in the messages, subliminal and all, passed using the media. Nigerians tend to believe so much in movie and tend to be influenced by Nollywood as much as if not more than they are influenced by the news tabloid. In fact, the whole idea behind media is for promoting ideologies. Mental conditions are still a very grey area in the consciousness of Nigerians and this is especially given the tendency of the average Nigerian to give religious-based colourations to certain mental conditions. This is the reason for the wrong diagnosis of various mental conditions and resultant inefficiency of our society in handling persons with pronounced mental concerns. The onus lies on Nollywood film makers to rise to the occasion, heighten the tempo of exploration into the various mental conditions which are prevalent in our society and thereby highlighting the proper approach to them both by the patients and by society.