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.