Posted in Lifestyle

What If You Were Mentally Disabled


I struggled with writing this post because how controversial and sensitive mental disability is and I didn’t want to edit what I’m feeling. Some days ago, I was feeling a bit depressed thinking how about how some things were going wrong in my life and I was worried about the pimple on my face and pissed about the menstrual cramps I was having. I was just dwelling on the bad in my life. How silly of me. Not because of how I felt, it is crazy to be happy 24/7 or not have problems but how irrelevant. I mean….. a pimple?! It is an actual problem but not one to lose sleepover.

Today is my roommate’s birthday. Yesterday, in order to kick-start her celebration she asked me and others to follow her to Modupe Cole, a home for mentally disabled people. She bought groceries and a cake so she could celebrate with them.

When we got there, we placed the gifts in the compound while the celebrant was sorting out official details. Then a man who was mentally disabled came towards us. The girl closest to me moved away so when the man came, I was the one who the closest to him. He was trying to say something and while I was trying to process what he tried to say, he hugged me. More like he grabbed me, I was startled. My instinct was to pull away but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings so I wrapped my hands around him but I was uncomfortable partly because I don’t like body contact with strangers.

Then we got in and after seeing more people, my uneasiness wore off. I was even impressed by how the teachers coordinated them. Then we were asked to go into the hostels and go into the bedridden area.

When we entered the hostels, our first stop was where they displayed the handiworks of their students. We were surprised and happy and very chatty. Then they took us into the bedridden area, things changed.

I had been to Modupe Cole, to help my cousin inquire about their visiting hours but I stayed around the administrative area so I saw nothing really. However, in the bedridden room, I saw what will stay with me forever.

I saw a mentally disabled man, 66 who kept oozing spit and quite “deformed” and a beautiful little girl who was abandoned as a baby. The institution was understaffed so obviously that particular place was smelling. Most were abandoned because their parents and people can’t deal with them.

I was angry, at everything and everyone including myself because of the illusion and division we have created. They are they and we are we, we go look at them and say “Thank God I’m not an imbecile” and drop gifts and cry for that day but will be extremely horrified if someone says adopt one or if our family gives birth to one.

I’m not playing saint because up until yesterday, mental disability was very abstract to me. It was what I learnt as a student of psychology or pictures I saw. I’m not even deluding myself. I know at this stage, I can’t effect the change I would like to see but I know I can do what I can, and so can you.

That change is not segregating them. I can’t say much for other countries and what they have in place but here in Nigeria, I know disability especially mental disability is a stigma. Of course, they should have proper institutions but more can be done than treating them like a “thank goodness it’s not me” exhibition. They should be allowed to fly, spread their wings not locked up. Some of them who can even still make beautiful things should be encouraged. Nigeria needs to move beyond that point of segregation of disabled people so we don’t have to be surprised when confronted with the reality of mental disability. Parents with mentally disabled children should not be encouraged to hide and lock them up because of what people will say or react. If they react poorly then sorry for them. What if it was you? Would you like it? We jump up and down about racism and scream about sexism but we are treating people as lesser humans like they are not complete. Everyone can’t be the same.

Of course, there are already wonderful people who have made efforts to help. Thank you, from people like me who are just waking up and those who are yet to.

The reason I’m not uploading pictures of them and the visit is because I don’t want people to gawk or turn the post into another exhibition.


I'm OnyinyeOlufunmi, a visual artist, writer and psychologist from Lagos, Nigeria.

4 thoughts on “What If You Were Mentally Disabled

  1. The stigma may be difficult to eradicate in Nigeria, but with time and enough awareness about it (just like you’ve just done), we can achieve it.

    Meanwhile, I think you took a big risk with the one that hugged you. You never can tell the exact state/condition that he was at that time.
    As much as we would want to accommodate them, we also should be careful.

    In all, this is a very good piece, well done Onyinye.
    More power to your elbow.


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