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Hitting Home Series: Dr Damilola Ajayi on seeking mental healthcare in Nigeria

A Senior Registrar of Psychiatry, medical doctor, poet and author, Dr. Damilola Ajayi is balancing different worlds so well! Dr. Ajayi is a physician at possibly, the most well-known psychiatric hospital in Lagos State, Nigeria - the Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital. In his interview with Engage Africa Foundation, Dr. Ajayi gives advice, on getting help and how loved ones play a critical role in supporting, those experiencing mental health challenges:

Tell us a little about yourself

I am a medical doctor, digital publisher, poet, music critic and literary enthusiast. My hobbies are driving, travelling and listening to music. I live and work in Lagos, one of the most interesting cities in the continent of Africa. I am a Senior Registrar of Psychiatry with membership status in both the West African and National Postgraduate Colleges.

Was there any major motivation to tow a career path in psychiatry, in Nigeria?

My interest in psychiatry predates my interest in medicine. I fancied the idea of healing minds back then and the American thrillers by way of film and books helped to concretize this. Sometimes during my rotations in medical school, I discovered that in psychiatry ward, rounds were administered sitting and it just felt like a relief for me. Add this to my initial fear of blood which I discovered in 300 Level. These were my motivations alright.

As a Senior Registrar of Psychiatry at the Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital ('Yaba Left') in Lagos, what is your top advice to people on identifying mental health issues in themselves and/or in loved ones?

Unusual experiences should not be hidden or neglected rather they should be explored early on. Before the symptoms of mental illness escalate to a place of being overt, the early signs present themselves. It is the role of clients and their relatives to clarify these symptoms by seeking knowledge and seeking out the experts. People are generally afraid of the unknown in real life as in psychiatry and expectedly what it means to have a mental illness is wrought in myth perpetuated and curated by the society. The charge will be to ask everyone to seek information about mental health issues.

Asides Yaba Left, are there some other useful resources for people seeking mental health solace/treatment? If yes, please share.

I imagine you mean in Lagos state. Yes, there are. Yaba Left is not a name we embrace because it is also part of the stigma. The hospital has got an annex at Oshodi where Children and Adolescent cases are managed as well as where specific psychiatry rehabilitation programmes happen. Lagos University Teaching Hospital in Idi-Araba, Surulere has got a Department of Psychiatry as well. Ditto for Lagos State University Hospital in Ikeja. There are a number of private facilities also that offer assessment and treatment of mental health disorders.

Are there experiences in the mental health unit that have been enlightening to you? If yes, please share on your top favourite ones.

One of the most enlightening thing about working in mental health is that mental illnesses are not unique, in that they can occur in any one. Whilst interacting with clients, one realises how their symptoms, concerns, expectations and aspirations converge around the disorder. One often experience how issues like culture shock, traumatic experiences, migration, strife and deprivation are windows through which mental disorders insinuate themselves into the fabric of our society. Even the perspective of the radical anti-psychiatrists is useful as it still impacts the way illness is perceived in our society.

Please share on any activities and hobbies that you engage in, to maintain a work-life balance

I enjoy laughing a lot and I engage in activities of this nature. This includes meeting up with friends, going to the movies, engaging with music, engaging with physical activities like swimming, learning a new language, meditation in the manner of zen and yoga or communing with spiritual energies made available by one’s faith. Being good to people. Eschewing anger and dealing with anger maturely without deploying malice. Finding redemptive possibilities in every grim situation.

How can people connect with you?

I have got a personal website.

Social media:

Facebook page:

Twitter: @ajayidami


From Asylum to Psychiatric Hospital in West Africa

Mental Illness: The Way We See it

Panel Discussion:

Thank you, Dr. Ajayi!

Author sincerely thanks Dr. Ajayi, for the correction on the use of a wrong term for his workplace. The correction is duly noted and appreciated.


To donate to our health promotion, research and advocacy efforts to stop the growing epidemic of chronic diseases on the African continent, click here.  

About the author:

Chiamaka Mogo is a Nigerian public policy scholar and the Manager of Engage Africa Foundation's Hitting Home Series. She is also the President of the Initiative for Inclusive Dialogue in Nigeria (IIDN). 


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