Ebere Okonkwo : Making Mental Health Care Accessible

Miriam speaks with Ebere Okonkwo from Lagos Nigeria. Ebere is the Founder of MyCareBuddy, an online platform that offers Nigerians mental health care and consultation in a non-judgmental space. Our guest is also a mental health advocate, writer and spoken word artist.

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KEY TAKEAWAYS 

  • What experiences led Ebere to found MyCareBuddy
  • We talk about the mental heath stigma she has experienced
  • The entrepreneurial journey that brought her to create MyCareBuddy
  • How it is not easy for young people to speak about mental health issues
  • What she wishes to see change in African families
  • Importance for parents to start building a relationship with their children when they are small
  • The role of the “big sister” in African families and the consequences of such a role
  • We discuss imposter syndrome based on an article Ebere wrote on Linkedin
  • The importance of writing as a means of emotional release
  • And More…

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BEST MOMENTS

“it would be nice to have an African communities, African families, an atmosphere that encourages openness between an among fellow family members between and among siblings, and especially very important, but importantly, between parents and the children. “

VALUABLE RESOURCES

MyCareBuddy

Ebere Okonkwo Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ebere-okonkwo-mycarebuddy/

ABOUT THE GUEST

Entrepreneur | Founder at MyCareBuddy | Mental Health Advocate | Writer | Spoken Word Artist

I am a mental health advocate who lives and breathes to see everyone has access to unhindered mental health care, especially in Nigeria. In pursuance of this, I founded Mycarebuddy where we provide online mental health care services to users.

CONTACT METHOD:

Ebere’s email : [email protected]

MyCareBuddy: [email protected]

ABOUT THE HOST

Miriam is a Trauma Informed Coach, an African, a mom of three daughters, a blogger and writer.  After graduating from the London School of Economics, she built her international career in the fields of banking and international development, working for organisations such as the World Economic Forum, Lombard Odier Private Bank, JP Morgan, the Mastercard Foundation and the United Nations. She now uses her passion for psychology and dedicates her time to coaching others to free themselves from the burden of childhood trauma.  Her wish to help other women connect to their inner wisdom, love themselves and follow their passion. In her effort to destigmatize mental health and normalize mental health conversations in black communities, she wrote her memoir about surviving childhood and finding her worth.  

CONTACT METHOD

Instagram: @miriamnjoku_

Facebook 

Linkedin

CLUBHOUSE: @miriamnjoku

#overcomingyourstory #overcomingyourstorypodcast #mentalillness#mentalhealthstigma #mentalhealth #mentalhealthwellness #Nigerian #childhood #stigmatized #africanfamilies #breakingthesilence #mentalhealthawareness #community #lagos #entrepreneur #depression #writer#antidepressants #mentalhealthadvocate #selfdiscovery #safespace

Transcript

Hello dear listeners, this is the overcoming your story podcast with your host, Miriam Njoku. Today, our guest is a Barry Okonkwo. He's based in Lagos, Nigeria. She's an entrepreneur, the founder of my care body, a mental health platform that helps Nigerian seeking mental health services. And she's also a mental health advocate, a writer, and a spoken word artist. I will not say more, I will let her introduce herself. in her own words, I'm very excited to have you, as my guest today, a very welcome.

Thank you so much mirror, more excited to be on your program or your podcast today. And there is more, more introduction to do different from what you've done already, like you said, a very cool founder of my care Party, which is a mental health service provider. Organization. I like you kindly said as well I write whenever the spirit I write I journal, I also do spoken word poetry. Because physically, this methods, the different measures I adopt, to help me deal and find closure with my own mental health, because it's actually necessary to be in a safe space mentally, for me to offer the same services to other people. So yes, I'm actually very excited to be on your program.

So just to start with, you're a young woman, and you started this, you're a founder of a mental health care platform. How did you get into that? Like, how did you get the awareness of mental health?

Okay, thank you so much. I rubbed out 10 minutes, lack of awareness, so to speak, curse Greedo there really isn't much conversation surrounding mental health, especially with the surrounding the environment, I found myself being but the fact that that wasn't a topic that was openly had didn't prevent me from experiencing or coming in contact with certain realities, you know, personality, and I was just trying to navigate myself trying to understand things happening or why I feel certain days or why I couldn't really speak to certain people about certain things. And it was just a thing, basically grid off until I got to a point when I really did feel that Okay, I think I really need to start speaking about certain things that are not very welcome in our society. Because if you would, if you would agree with me, every African you understand when you want to start speaking, mental health, we want to start speaking things that put us on that people start looking at you crazy to start looking at you like you so the kind of insane person or you should be going for deliverance somewhere inside the church. And also when I got to that point, I realized that okay, this is really a problem. That demand solution, yes, for the society at large for as many people as possible, but first for myself, because at different points in turnout, I felt much better out of level to deal with certain things better if I had the leverage and the opportunity to share certain experiences and feelings with people that will be empathetic with your thoughts. And affected it's your journey, understanding and not trying to place you in a box. So when I realized that that was a problem, it became a theme for me. Okay, how do we solve this first for myself and then for many other people as possible? Okay, yes, that went on for a while, obviously, I really didn't know how to go about it To be honest, on sale. Of course, at some point I had the opportunity to pursue a business right, I had the opportunity to first actually to pursue a career in tech in it. So based on what I just already know, retired, the first thing that actually came to my mind to have a company or whatever on was, has to do with mental health. Of course I could do fashion that is what most ladies are about to do. logistics. Could you? You mentioned them both really, I wasn't thinking about any, any other thing, but mental health. And so I began the journey first, as a tech enthusiast, so to speak, trying to build a website here and where, you know, with the intention of Okay, through this website, I'm going to provide mental health conditions here and there and all of that. But of course, that there were there was a period when I had to really transition from the IT world into the enterpreneurship. world completely. But still with the mental health goal. I had a three years journey up and down, back and forth. And here we are.

Wow, amazing. So when you were going to your mental health challenges, or when Yeah, those feelings, noticing that there was actually no way you could get those services that you're creating? Actually, did you find support? Did you have friends you could talk to Did you? Yeah. And how do you see the for your friends, too? How do you? Is it easier today to speak about mental health challenges? Or the stigma is?

Yes, like I try to explain in the course of my previous talk, it's really different ways during individuals, right, there are some people that are more open to talk about stops, at least to a certain extent, others are not based on personal differences. And I actually find myself in the other percenter, I do not easily get to that point where I want to share whatever with you. It doesn't always come that easily. So of course, that is the reason why I actually saw it as a thing. Because yes, I had all these things I wanted to discuss with people, I had all this conversations I would have actually had loved to have, but no, it wasn't necessarily forthcoming. And that was actually what painted the reality of the problem. And I tried to create a solution for which is this any part of your personality, regardless of your power, regardless of your makeup, right of who you are, your behavioral tendencies, he should be able to share your innermost thoughts or experiences at any given time, even if it had to pass the comb with the pain of keeping your identity, if you so wish. So you will be free to further express yourself openly. So I thought about that. And I said, Okay, what can we do about this, if we can create a platform that can afford people to have those discussions whenever, if ever regularly, as you know, as the case demands, before it, actually, they actually get overwhelmed with different feelings, anxieties, or stress triggers, if they can have a platform where they can be easily through the aid of technology, connected with an experts, a counselor, somebody somewhere with all the experiences really expertise, will the empathy, you know, the skills to have this conversation, and then still maintain the identity, you know, that will be very, very beautiful, that will really come off as a solution to this particular problem that has been painted. So yes, that was actually the journey I went through. And the problem I identified, and which brought me to the solution, that I ended over three, which is to create an trying to better create, yeah, I visited your platform in preparing an interview. And I was very impressed because

I see that you communicate like in different languages in pidgin English. And this is really good, because he posted it reassures the person coming to your platform, that they are understood. And then I saw that you match the clients coming in with therapists so that they can have this very important conversations here you're talking about so I wish that you make it grow because it's very necessary. You are a young woman. do you how do you see like, do young people speak about mental health issues more easily? I know that for our older generations, we know that it's not so easy, but you just said that even for yourself it was not so easy, but what do you see among your your friends, people around you

Among the young, our younger generation, there's still a lot of stigma happening out there, that we're trying to cut across this stigmatization, there is bullying, sometimes when some people are ready to appropriate come out and express themselves and you know, communicate certain feelings and expressions, they get misunderstood a lot, they get bullied, they get ostracized, either consciously or unconsciously. And this leads to those people going back into their shell, or attempting to deal with whatever they've been dealing with different ways and methods, some of them research to drug abuse, some of them results with extensive, wild while leaving, you know, just to recognize other things that you're trying to struggle within that apparently, nobody's understanding. While some people at critical stages, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid. Some people resort to, like critical depression, of course, gets suicidal. And it also can succeed at suicide and it's crazy this continues to happen. And when it happens, Funny enough, the world seems to be empathizing with this particular effects in others points. There is this solidarity, especially in social media, or what a PC this happened, this didn't happen. Why did he know she was going through this and that, and then it happens for a while. But then within days or weeks, everybody goes back to the stigmatizes. So this keeps on repeats, and especially among young people. And one of the funny thing is that even some of those young girls that might actually have episodes or realities with issues like this, turn out to be also the ones that will end up bullying another on the same basis, and it's crazy. He needs this help be nice to say help for a police be For this reason, people is a For this reason, and you will just going crazy and crazy. And that is the more reason like have insane. I think it's really important that this conversations are had this awareness is created, and platforms are encouraged and propagated into the wall for people to actually know that Oh, okay. We don't have to deal with this alone. You really don't have to try to cower into your shell or suffocate your feelings. You can always find expression and empathy with somebody that is qualified to offer services.

Yeah, that's amazing. Yeah, you talking about that bullying example. It's, it's when there's so much shame that people cannot express their feelings. So what they see in the others in they see it in themselves. So they go and bully the others. So it's just like, a cover up. They don't have to look at themselves. So what do you think if you look at like our African families, what kind of conversations do you think would you wish for to happen in our families? If you look at the family today? You know,

it's really going to be wish for a long time.

That's why we're doing this work. Yeah, nicely do

things that beginnings of Ford actually, in our society, especially among those that are more exposed. So yes, going back to the question, it would be nice to have an African communities, African families, an atmosphere that encourages openness between an among fellow family members between and among siblings, and especially very important, but importantly, between parents and the children. Because most times, all this happens, due to some invisible walls and divides that have been created. When children agree No, no, we are not saying they don't have a relationship with their parents. But then it's the whole relationship and interaction always kind of goes down. Expectations demands pressures. You do this you represent the family will you be a good child you do, boy you rewards do this and get the word Judas and get punished. And at the end of the day, my friend will have children growing up in such environments, resourcing and becoming just maybe a shadow of themselves. There's so much inside of them, but they can't express them because they have been your mindset have been constructed to fit into that one very myopic model that has been encouraged in that family who can encourage more openness allow people be themselves allow people developing their own pace, allow people express themselves, to express themselves and get maybe we are not encouraging you in giving a new way for people to go wild. But just give some kind of allowance for some expression so that it gets some things out. And if it turns out not good, they better understand why. Okay, this is not good, this is good. This is more advisable. This is not advisable, instead of creating some kind of dog get rules and traditions that people are forced to comply to. And at some point, they begin to question so many things which could have so many debilitating effects on their mental health and general outlook.

Yeah, I totally agree with you. I also coach and many people talk about just as you said, they actually there is no love expressed their love is, have you made your bed? Have you cleaned the house? Have you done this? Go do your homework, and there is no space for conversation? There is no How did it go at school today? You know, you play with your friends, you know, there's no genuine connection with the with the child and then we don't even notice it. And years go by and you don't even know your child, actually you think you know your child, you you have no clue who is in front of you. Because he never took the time to ask that child? How are you doing? Like, how are you ready to answer

that move. In most cases in such environments, we now tend to find ourselves in situations later in life when children are already developed. Already I find parents and children trying to start some kind of relationship that should have been introduced right from when the kids were still in your very formative ages. And it doesn't happen overnight. And everybody gets stressed, everybody gets tense, people start feeling like Oh, you don't want to talk to me, or you don't want to open up to labor, those kinds of conversations. So relationships don't just kick off, you know, because he wanted to, it has to have been work done from the from it CPS.

Yeah, built Little by little, you don't just wake up and you trust someone, it's built over time. So if you spend 25 years not speaking, where, you know, it will not just come like that, you will not just come and confide in your parent, if you've never done that, right, it will take some work on both sides to break those barriers and build something. One other problem that keeps me up at night, it's how to raise awareness on children taking care of children in families, like the bigger kids, the big sister or the big brother, but most of the time, the big sister, they just have this role where they just they you know, they clean, they cook, they just take care of the other kids. And actually it steals their childhood away from them, we don't realize give responsibility to a child or give them confidence. Right. But that in that case, that's not a that's something else it's making. Yeah, making them become mothers, where there's

a lot of wealth in them the opportunity to grow up, graduate.

Yeah, dude, what do you think of that? in Cameroon? It's a very real problem. Do you see that, I think in Nigeria, to reprogram to whatever it is.

But to be honest, I don't exist in that percentile, because I have not existed in my own case, but I understand the situation. I totally understand it. And it is really, really true. That is what exists most times actually look at even a whole lot of children for little ones actually. But they happen to have been gifted that birthright of being the big sister and I see how the struggle with our role and how frustrating it can be and how most times they don't usually have a life of their own. And they are always judged by how well the take care of the younger ones. They are judged by the reports the younger ones give to their parents and that could have really critical effects on their mental health and psychological makeup and I see the struggle and I also See the needs really like you mentioned, trying to create intentional conversations and awareness to parents as much as possible to let them understand why. Yes, this is a first child or Yes, this is a foster couple. This is also a doctor per se, this is also a child that needs to experience childhood, especially coming from a parent. And so well of course, you expect certain responsibilities from them. Because yes, of course, they need to take over Young Guns, but you don't automatically pester upon them. That's rule of having to physically mentally emotionally become a parent with our minds. They are not parents. Yeah.

Yeah, that's, that's something I'm very passionate about. Because it even rubs the younger ones have some skills, because if there's one person taking care of everything, the other ones they don't get to develop even skills for themselves, you know, they don't know how to cook. They don't know how they don't even know how to take care of themselves, because there was one person doing all of it, you know? Yeah, I saw a blog post he posted on LinkedIn about imposter syndrome and procrastination. I just read it literally.

Talking me like,

I just felt I really needed to say something about this, because well, we all at some point, find ourself in that space, including myself. So anaphor Yes, why not put this out there.

So what can you tell us about imposter syndrome?

Okay, there's this psychological feeling, okay, that we tend to go through, when it seems like we have been introduced, or we have a situation or an arrangement that's due to net true understanding the head across sales of skills or abilities prior to then we just believe that we are not, we can do this issue, I can do this. And this is really, really wrong. Because why can she do this when they're actually people during it? And in most cases, you might actually even have better skills than them so why can't you do this because probably you've not had the the security so to speak have not had that environment that they had not had that opportunity that they had, which probably made some of the people have it's better and defend yourself I just see very well and easily and quickly to such these responsibilities, positions, whatever it wants to be. And then we find ourselves struggling to accept first within us that okay, yes, I can do this. And I really, I find that very upsetting because this syndrome, this this thing, whatever you want to call it actually limits a lot of force a lot of people from exhibiting their full potentials I believe, everybody has so many things within themselves, that they can do that it can be that they can achieve. If this is no motivational speak at all, but if only we will be able to get to the point of allowing us of believe in at least just believe in your capacity if you feel you feel if you feel you feel and you could try again and get it and most times we never get to try Thank you. We never get to try because of yes that's I'm not sure I can do this page or probably you you you did your due diligence right you put in all the hard work you should have put in to get to a particular point in life. And you are right. And you already suddenly overcome by some kind of weird feeling. Wow, really? How did I get here? How can I proceed? Are you sure I can fit in below this people? It's really uncalled for but then it happens a lot of the time so I felt if we can intentionally address issues like this face them and you get to the point where you're like, Okay, yes, I knew what you are and I knew that this is what you present it to be then you will be able to better deal with him and make use of our potentials better that we would have if all those things just exists without us consciously being aware of.

Yeah, no very important topic. Especially when people grew up without Talking about their feelings. Many people struggle with imposter syndrome, myself included. So sometimes it's really, you can manage it. But sometimes it can take over. I agree with you that knowing the mechanisms of it to understand how it impacts you and why. And what is holding you back. It's really, really important to. Yeah, I mean, I want to say, let's face that's how we learn, fail, fail and fail again, fair trial failing, you will see every you will see how you'll be progressing through those, what we called failure. And then at one point, we just thought, Oh, my God, look what I've learned. I know, I know how to do this. Okay, if I do this, I will not do this again. Because I see, I learned from the consequences of that mistake. That's, that's actually for me. That's success. That's how you get to success. You will not know until you try it. If you tried. Yes, it will work. Sometimes Sometimes it will not work. That's how it goes. That's life. That's normal. You know, and that's how you learn. That's how you learn. No, one times. Oprah didn't come on her first TV set. And she was the best. No, she's learned she learned, you know, she fine tune she. That's that's life. But it's true that we grew up people want us to be the best. At first go. You try. You're the best you that's what we glorified society.

Exact Yeah, exactly.

We don't glorify the years the Oh, my God is not working? Oh, I'm not? we don't we don't talk about that. We just want to come and say, Oh, I have this as if it was easy, you know? Yeah,

got it right, while they are:

I really like what you're saying right now. Especially that sometimes the what you see is not what is let me explain myself in that. That person that got up there and is celebrated. Maybe they had money resources networks that you should

definitely most of them actually. MC so to speak not all some of them and they just have this.

Yeah, they right. Yes,

yeah advantages the Nadia in the resources, the people and anyways, yeah.

And then where then the person with imposter syndrome even gets it worse is that Oh, they feel like I don't have it, I don't have what it takes to be like that person. Yes, but you're not starting from an equal footing, right? You're not starting from an equal footing maybe when you're looking for money to launch your venture, they have access to money and the networks and the people and everything. So you're not, I think it helps people is not to depress someone, no, but it just helps people to understand what system Yeah, and then you can do your thing without beating yourself up, you know, that you keep creating, you know, advancing at your own pace, without thinking, Oh, I should be like that person. You know, I just wanted to shift gears. I know you write, I also write so I love when I hear someone writes, it just makes me so happy. Excited. So what like, why do you write what does it mean to you? Okay, first off, recently,

I turned myself, it leaves you writer. Because, you know, so many people who pursue a career sort of in writing, although, of course, muscle very comes from a place of passion, too. But then they create some kind of carry around that there was a time I was considering something to be true to myself, it doesn't really come like that, I write spontaneously. And most times I write when I'm kind of going through some phases, you know, I told you, I mentioned some skills, that helps me deal etc. So sometimes I actually write and my writing is an attempt to express expressing certain emotions that I don't go into, cannot express with anybody, right? So I write them out. It doesn't mean it has to be so heavy, heavy, heavy with emotions, I can write different I can write on different topics. But like I mentioned, it's actually it's usually spontaneous. At some point, I just have to write, I just have to write I journal a lot with my phone. I do that a lot. I have this diary in my phone, and I don't have physical or if I have stops like that on my phone. So that's basically what writing is, to me most times is therapeutic. And when I put myself to eat, I can actually pick a topic and write events. But that doesn't come from I need to be sincere to myself. That doesn't happen. Because most times I will really have so many other things that I should do. But then kudos to those who that's like their career path, like your job. They can say, Okay, I'm working. And I need to write this No, that's not really me. Okay, I rights as therapy, basically. And it comes in spontaneous spontaneous with me.

Yeah, it's really important what you're saying, because it's been proven in studies and that writing like that, for emotional release, for, you know, processing your emotions, it's really very good. You know, if you don't, if you cannot say to someone, like write it somewhere, it has to come out something, you know, make a little love of yourself a little video of yourself or you're speaking your truth. Write it down, you know, go scream it in the forest, but don't paint it up. Don't accumulate everything down. So, what you're doing is, is amazing. I know you're also a spoken word artist. So you write poetry as well, then

you act it out as a sphere. Yeah.

So to wind the interview down a little bit. Let's have some fun questions. So what do you like reading what what's the latest thing you've read?

currently reading a book. It's It's It's a book that it's almost very popular. The lady in return Yes.

Go check it out.

The lady in waiting It's actually a Christian book for single ladies as well to be married and all of all those situations. So career

wise and interesting. So So what what's your favorite dish?

favorite dish? You know, I'm actually, I'm wired like that. I don't have favorites. But someone can just jump on. Oh, this is my favorite. This is my favorite. I don't necessarily have feel free. But enough chicken.

Oh, yeah.

So let's go with that, please.

Yeah, there's not too much. Let's go with right. Yeah, no noise. You know, this, if you if you had any advice to give to young women, young women, about their mental health about themselves, what would you say?

Quiet alerts for them. For the sake of time, I'm just going to say don't restrict yourself. Don't restrict yourself, because almost the whole world is set to restrict you, both consciously and unconsciously, but directly and indirectly, from a place of ignorance and also from a place of, they knew what they are doing. But they just want to swim in a box. So don't join them. Don't join them be ever ready to exercise all the potentials, you have the ones you are aware of the points that are hidden, they are not our because there are so many things we can do. I will actually come from very personal place over time have been realized. This is not really a big deal. And when I say that I didn't mean it in a way of saying, Oh, it's actually a walk in the park. It's nothing. Yeah, it takes time takes effort takes consistency. And I'm speaking generally, by the end of the day, it's nothing I cannot do. And I believe that's what's happening. That's the situation for everybody to if only they would get to that point, there is so much so so much we can do. And very importantly, please protect your mental space. If you encounter any toxic situations, prices, work or whatever. However, it seems we always have that right to protect our mental space. If you don't want to deal with somebody. If you don't want to deal with a particular situation. Please walk away. Please walk away. It doesn't matter what anybody says. So far as you are not hurting other people in the process. In as much as you are not infringing on anybody's rights. Protect your space, because you will always need that at the end of the day. That's all you have. Even after the whole fanzine after the whole Hey, hey, hey, with everybody, which is beautiful. At the end of the day, you only have that pledge to the client into and it needs to be healthy for you to function properly for you to feel crucial for you to refine oil so you can go out other times and do all the beautiful things you need to do we really need to ensure that our mental space as far as you can control is sane, and peaceful. And really is a sanctuary. And yes, please love Good. Good. Good. Yeah.

What can I wish you what what what? What do you how do you see your platform growing?

Oh, wow. Okay. Oh, definitely. I see a platform and I would appreciate your wishes and help towards the actualization of that growth from Lagos, Nigeria, to Nigeria, Africa to Canada and you know, we really needed to be a global thinkers mental health caught up for space and time it goes up first Nigeria is not a Nigerian thing. Of course, it's more because structures and systems that you empathize with discussions like this in the West, but it's still within so and services. also work with people that need good drivers. So yes, in two years from now, we actually see my care buddy to be a platform that stands shoulder to shoulder, shoulder to shoulder to other global companies, may be one of the five definitely one of the five top Mental Health and different organizations.

Oh, I love that and I wish them and your platform is called my care body.

And you can find [email protected] chair for d, o, R, G, and on all social platforms, but my

Yeah. Thank you so much for this conversation.

Thank you for the invite. I really had fun, like really, really happy and happy I did this.

Oh, thank you and they are not Thank you.

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