Film Maker Recommends Art as Antidote to Mental Health


Udora Orizu in Abuja

Mental health is one issue that will take a while to solve, the issue has attracted little or no attention and has been quite neglected, but with the increasing cases of suicides and other mental health issues in all parts of the world, every little contribution by thoughtful people can make a difference.

It’s 2018 and one would think that with all the technology available to mankind, mental health would have been something solved two decades ago. A 2018 research by the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention reports that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. On an average, there are 123 suicides per day, 25 suicide attempts and over 40,000 deaths by suicide per year in America alone. In Nigeria, those numbers rack even higher.

By World Health Organispation (WHO) data, at least one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, placing the total number of people currently suffering from such condition at 450 million worldwide.

Although there are no specific data on the number of people suffering from mental disorders, available statistics from the WHO however, indicates that there are 130 psychiatrists to a population of 174 million in Nigeria; placing Nigeria as 30th most suicide-prone out of 183 nations in the world, at 15.1 suicides per 100,000 populations per year.

Mental health disorders are not uncommon, and the global burden of mental health disorders is projected to reach 15 per cent by the year 2020.

By this time, it is estimated that common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse-related disorders.

In Nigeria, an estimated 20 per cent –30 per cent of our population are believed to suffer from mental disorders. This is a very significant number considering Nigeria has an estimated population of over 200 million.

Mental health issues could range from mood disorders to trauma related disorders, from anxiety to substance abuse and none of these should be taken lightly by any means.

The solution, however, has taken different forms, from psychotherapy to counselling, motivational interviewing, solution focused therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy.

One of the places have been least looked upon for a panacea in the fight to improve mental health is art.

This is an approach by a US based award-winning Nigerian film maker, known for one of his earliest works “Creative Minds” that was recognised as the best short documentary at the Afrinolly Film Festival of 2014, Dr. Victor Okoye, to mental health is unique.

Okoye, who is also a member of the board of advisers of Art with Impact Group, an NGO based in San Francisco, whose sole goal is promoting mental health through film making, said the theory being put to test in his work, is an ongoing research at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence.

According to the research, “a magneto encephalography (MegScan) of the brain reveals a very interesting brain activity when a human is exposed to some form of art.

“The brain has a specific reaction to different forms of art, be it music, still pictures or motion pictures. Understanding that pattern in the brain has helped psychotherapists during therapy sessions to evoke very specific responses in different areas of the brain, eliciting a desired effect.”

Explaining his approach he said: “Take that research and merge it with what we know from Behavioural Science, humans are known to change their behaviours based on experiences.

“We tend to lean towards the known more than the unknown, which explains why you are more likely to buy a product you have seen the ad more times than the one you barely know anything about.

“If a person’s feelings and actions are influenced by what they see and hear, that knowledge can be employed in cases of mental health crises, by creating an art work that provides a point of reference for the individual, such that it gives them a new perspective on what they are going through.

“This means creating a real story, one that is relatable to the patient and presenting it in a manner that is as entertaining and captivating as you can get. Then ask a question and your patient will find an answer.

“People leave cinemas and wish to become the character they just saw on the big screen, sometimes referencing them in their everyday lives.

“This goes to show that motion pictures have such strong effects and the time to find a much more critical use for them beyond entertainment and escapism is now.”

Dr. Okoye’s work “Purpose” is currently being screened across colleges in the United States as part of counseling programs organised by Art With Impact.