Mrs Doubtfire and Nigerians view of depression

Walking into a new job few years ago, I was confronted with a real life Mrs Doubtfire (Not Robbin Williams). As I sat on the opposite chair listening to my new boss giving the rundown of the office culture, I nodded along to suggest my agreement with a little smile at the corner of my mouth. My head was doing something different, I tried really hard to remember where I had met my new manager before. The memory was a happy one so the more I tried to divert my thinking the more I thought of it.


Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

As I stepped away from my office later in the day, I ran into a colleague who asked me out for lunch. I shared what I was thinking about our manager that she looked very familiar but I was having trouble placing her. Jonathan looked up with bright smile on his face, giggling like a child – “Mrs Doubtfire?” he blurted “That’s it!” I agreed.

Office nickname sometimes has negative connotation but in my manager’s case it wasn’t. She bears striking physical resemblance to Mrs Doubtfire’s (Daniel Hillard) film character and the positive attitude to compensate. She was in her late fifties at the time and a mother so didn’t mind the look of a homely Scottish maid that Robbin Williams portrayed in the movie. The nickname was meant to reinforce her positiveness so she runs with it.  The office Mrs Doubtfire made everyone laugh – every tasks to her is important and always available to lend hand when needed. Hardly could anyone say no to her requests – her medicine always comes with a spoon full of sugar.

You can imagine my shock on Monday when I read about Robbin Williams’ death. Reports talk about his struggle with severe depression perhaps triggered by his expensive multiple divorces and or his alcohol and drug addiction. I could not believe that a man who dedicated his professional life to putting smiles on many faces around the world could be defeated by depression. I guess none of it matters if you are in the very low zone.

This reminds me of Dipo Ige, a 400L student at OAU campus, Nigeria who committed suicide by hanging in his room earlier this year. Lots of stories were made up about the reasons for Dipo’s suicide but the one that stood out for me was from Dipo’s mate saying he loved to keep to himself a lot – a classic symptom of a depressed person.

“He was a recluse, he keeps to himself, and he never talks to anyone. He always questioned the existence of God. He has a weird personality,” OAU Association of Campus Journalist.

“He has been nurturing such evil before now, as the rope he used had always been in his room, in fact he has been hanging it at his door post since Monday,” a lady living in Ige’s house told OAU ACJ.

In Nigeria, in most cases we see things black and white and give no room to in-betweens. More often than not most conversation is tied to religion as evidenced from Ige’s mates in the comment above. We were made to believe that if Mr A could shake off a family tragedy and moved on so should Mr B – one hat fits all mindset. We forget that we are all unique and that the way we deal with life challenges differ greatly.

Many Nigerians both young and old had words for Dipo Ige despite the fact he was already gone. Some called him selfish because he didn’t consider the pains he’d cause his parents. Some thought he killed himself because of the recent breakup with his girlfriend therefore he was a softie.

Now, what I did not read from the numerous comments that Nigerians posted online was that for someone to be at 400L at Obafemi Awolowo University today for a four-year degree, he must have started at least five years ago. School sessions were very unpredictable as the school authority goes on strike at touch of a button. Last year the students were home for six solid months because their lecturers wanted something from the government, this year they have been home for two months – always something. Each time they resumed, lectures will be rushed and exams conducted. All expected to magically cope.

Could it be that Dipo Ige was depressed because he sees no end to the challenges around him? And the fact that his questioning the existent of God made him the “uncool”among his mates and felt lonely even though he lived among the crowd? We will never know.

As a Nigerian, I know that we need to shift our thinking especially in the way that we see mental illness. Also I understand that though we may all suffer the same fate with all the troubles around us such as Ebola epidemic scare, Boko Haram #Bringbackourgirls and I dare mention residual effects of corrupt government officials etc the fact is the way we make sense of the world around us differ greatly for individuals.

Very sad to hear of Robbin William’s death – hope his family could find a bit of comfort knowing how much his humour and talent have touched lots of people around the globe – many of which he would never have met even if he lived up to 100 years.



Categories: Education, Mental illness

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21 replies

  1. When it comes to Robbin Williams i still wish things shouldn’t have ended this way. I grew up watching him. And always remember him as my genie. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your beautiful words on Mr. Williams and depression, in general. By now, I’m sure everyone (or many, at least) have been made aware of another “not so talked about health condition”, called Lewy Body Dementia which creates an abnormal amount of protein deposits in the brain that disrupts normal brain function. I was so sadden by his death when I first heard the news and am not sure how I feel today knowing that it was this “Lewy Body Dementia” condition that robbed us of such a beautiful soul….He was truly irreplaceable and my heart grieves for those many of us that considered him a friend and a true comedic genius. We need to keep “mental health issues” as a topic of discussion on a REGULAR basis and need to “take it out of the closet” and bring it “out into the light of day” where it truly belongs….Thank you, Dearheart for being one of those people……

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Depression has always been misunderstood, and in some cultures, the stigma and condemnation can be what pushes one over the edge, to commit suicide.
    There is more awareness and understanding now than ever before, with large organizations in the world putting a magnifier on it. But this has to work it’s way down to the lay person to make a real difference. I still get very ignorant comments from friends and family when I speak about my depression. There still needs to be a lot of discussion and continued support for this condition. Thanks for posting this, and shedding light of the Nigerian perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow. Thank you for sharing this. Having written about Mr. Robin Williams in one of my posts, I too was initially at a loss understanding how someone who bought so much joy to the world could get that low to take his life… then I remembered my second encounter with R.W., how he was trying to do a simple thing- buy a gift for a loved one during the holidays when two guys noticed him and basically wouldn’t give him any peace…

    The cost of fame can be deadly, but so can the cost of outside expectations… we never know when someone we think has it ‘all together’ is in fact struggling inside. As a black man in America hearing about Nigerian perspectives of the topic is very enlightening and profound!

    thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the read and comment. What moved me the most was that RW perhaps didn’t realise how many people he has touched in the world or maybe he did but felt lonely nonetheless…truly sad.

      And you are right the culture of people going nuts each time they spotted a celebrity clearly didn’t help someone like RW.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You make the point perfectly! Twice I stood with him watching others get a little ‘besides themselves’ over both him and/or his celebrity… Call me old school, but I love his work too, just never felt the need to get hysterical about it either time I spoke with him.

        I get the feeling he’s making them laugh in heaven though!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I’m an American who lives with bipolar disorder, and I find it fascinating to read about the different ways that mental illness is viewed in different cultures. (Even within the U.S.A., there are many different views of depression and suicide, though they usually have that uniquely “American” flavor to them.) I don’t face the type of challenges that a young Nigerian (like Dipo Ige) faces, but even with relatively few challenges, a strong faith, and a supportive family and medical network, I find depression difficult to survive. I can’t imagine how much harder it is without all of that. Thank you for bringing this to other people’s attention.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Mental illness is such a sad and secretive thing. Thank you for your empathetic post. I too was stunned when I heard about Robin Williams, it just didn’t seem possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Big Red Carpet Nursing and commented:
    A Nigerian perspective on depression, suicide, and Robin Williams.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank-you for taking this topic of depression on,. projection of the collective fears are very prevalent in society to even bring it up is bold..My daughters ex- boyfriend, while in a 4 year college. was suicidal.Fortunately he did not take his life..yet very very difficult for my daughter to watch him go through this after her breakup with him. He was also a recluse and just said he could not handle school anymore (very smart boy) in computer engineering (in his 4th year), I was grateful my daughter called me as I text-ed that boy every minute until he responded to me…I told him I cared about him, as they could not find him on campus,After many texts, he finally told me he would be fine., He was placed in the hospital on suicide watch and he ended up going home to his family. My daughter graduated in Mechanical Engineering and works for IBM now and just seemed to have better coping skills. I still pray for that boy as I heard he was doing good.
    Heart to Heart Robyn

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Robyn for reading this story and for sharing your story. And thank you for stepping up to help your daughter’s boyfriend, sometimes I suppose that is what is needed – to have someone cared enough to assure there is more to live for. I do hope he continues to see the brighter side of life. Your daughter is a star!


      • Yes she is a humble star! Aly ( My Daughter) brought 147 students to her college to have them get a glimpse into S.T.E.M. and has a passion to include (women and underrepresented students) into her field. She was ambassador of engineering and created several special programs at her UC School in California…Nectali( Her ex boyfriend) is also going back to finish school in his hometown.
        I pray for the students in Nigeria and the challenges they face as well! Heart to Heart Robyn.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. This is such an important topic. Thank you for writing these extremely important words. The worst thing one can say to a depressed person is “get over it, you’ll be happy if you really want to be”, but that’s what would usually happen in our society, we are expected to be strong. And I think to a great extent, depression is just not something that is properly understood and that’s why we just expect people to shake it off and move on with their lives.
    And I fear that there are many people living with this and never say a word because they don’t have the words or they are worried about the reception it might get. I hadn’t heard about the boy you mentioned, Dipo, but if people got the help they needed, horrible things like that wouldn’t happen. I think subjects like depression should be taken more seriously and people, especially young people should be properly educated on it.

    I’m sorry for the long comment. Looks like I made a new blog post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for stopping by and for reading this story.

      I am afraid that Dipo is on his own and not even his church pastor would help because they thought he is “possessed”

      And your comment is not long sister 🙂 I believe those who know better should keep talking about important issues affecting us daily, hopeful the message will sink in.

      Liked by 1 person

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