A teenage suicide attempt inspired me
Ruqoyah Ogunbiyi, holds a degree in pharmacy and a master’s degree in child and adolescent mental health.
Today, she is a child and youth mental health professional and founder of Sane Mind. In this interview with Yetunde Oladeinde she talks about her expertise in child mental health, designing interventions that promote wellness, developing family therapy and child psychotherapy.
Tell us how you got into mental health care for children and adolescents?
At one point in 2015, I was at a workshop where I overheard a 15 year old girl recount how she had attempted suicide twice. Listening to him I began to see the correlation between childhood experiences and mental health and I knew I wanted to help, I wanted many more parents, schools and child caregivers. learn more about children’s mental health. A year later, I organized a 3-day training course for teachers and craftspeople on the first signs of mental disorders.
After that, I was admitted to a master’s program in child and youth mental health. After my master’s degree, I just fully embarked on the creation of products and services that promote mental well-being in children.
How was the experience at the beginning?
It was great actually, I had just finished my pharmacy studies, I had one year of experience as a trainee pharmacist at Yaba Psychiatric Hospital. So I knew that the first line of action should be to get a qualification. Then when I did, the next line of action was able to communicate children’s mental health in layman’s terms.
I have a lot of questions like “Are the children depressed?” Also note that the mental health discourse is only just beginning to emerge, so starting to talk about children’s mental health seemed like overkill for many. So I had to quickly learn to communicate my expertise effectively and efficiently so that it received the attention it deserved.
What prompted you to create a healthy mind?
I started Sane Mind because I wanted to make children’s mental health and even mental health a discussion within the family. As I studied to become a child mental health professional, I realized that the emphasis was more on treatment than everyday prevention strategies. So I started Sane Mind to be able to provide children’s mental wellness interventions, because if we are able to meet the mental health needs of children, the quality of life of the future adult would improve dramatically and mental disorders in adulthood would also reduce drastically.
What are some of the accomplishments of the past 6 years?
I think my biggest achievement would be when a parent sends a message and says Thank you for a message or a product or service that has changed their child’s life. This is what makes the heart truly full. However, over the past 6 years, we have had over 1000 children and families across Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana using our Positive Affirmation Flash Cards and Family Bonding Calendar. We have trained over 20,000 parents and teachers on different correlates of children’s mental health, such as self-esteem, resilience, bullying, early signs of mental health issues, adverse childhood experience, among others.
What are the challenges you have encountered?
I think it would be a general adoption talk and mental health services. There is still a huge misconception, especially when it comes to children’s mental health. Where preventative strategies can be seen as a ‘good to have’ and a misconception for many mental health disorders in children. I mean, we would characterize a child with ADHD-associated hyperactivity disorder (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) as being “playful” and not “controlling”. Or the depressed child as “ungrateful” among other really unhealthy stereotypes. This certainly affects the search for treatment and the support available for children with these difficulties.
What are some of the memorable moments of working with parents?
I think the most rewarding times are when parents willingly share the effects of our positive affirmation flashcards and our family bonding calendar. A parent once emailed explaining how using the Family Links Calendar helped resolve the tension between her and her daughter, helped her find out that she was being bullied, and resolved his low self-esteem.
The ripple effect of using any of our products, training or even services is most memorable for me and for the entire Sane Mind team.
What changes would you like to see in the industry?
The key change I would like to see is integration and implementation.
Integration of child mental health and advocacy into routine mother and child care. Integration of children’s mental health into school curricula and teacher training programs. Integration of children’s mental health into routine care.
How important is the bond in families. How can we do it?
Family is a major determinant
mental health of a child. Different aspects of the family situation can make or spoil the child. So, to promote mental well-being in children, we need to create many positive experiences. The family can do this through family bonding activities that are organized to improve cognitive skills, emotional intelligence, problem solving and independence.
To achieve this, you can devote 30 minutes a day to activities that touch the emotional needs of children. Or, you can choose 1 to 3 days a week to forge deep connections between different aspects of their life. Our Family Links Calendar breaks them down into easy-to-do activities.
What other things are taking up your time?
I recently started to learn how to bake bread and baking has been relaxing for me. I now bake bread of all kinds at least once a week. I also love calligraphy and doodling.
You were one of the top three in your group in college, what was the motivation at that time.
It was no more of a motivation than the fact that I liked what I was learning, I was taught by one of the best teachers and the situation was very convenient to learn. My masters was an intentional program on the part of the school and on my part.
Who or what do you consider to be the greatest influence in your life?
My childhood experiences are one of my biggest influences, I will often reflect on the circumstances of my own life or someone I grew up with and start to dissect what resources would have improved our results in life, what benefits have I had, under what circumstances caused crucial changes. I believe it helps me in the work I am doing now. So every time I see a parent, a school, or even thinking about psychosocial interventions for children. I wonder what would have benefited me as a child.
What are some of the principles that inspire what you do?
Creativity, integrity, resilience, optimism of oneself and of society.
How would you rate Nigerian families today?
Although there is still a lot of work to be done to understand and accept children’s mental health in general. But I believe there has been an increase in the knowledge and attitude of Nigerian parents towards children’s mental health.
What message do you have for young people who want to enter the sector?
There is so much room, we are not enough, join the train now and quickly.