* Gomez addresses mental health issues with new poetry book
By Godwin Okondo
AS part of activities to mark its 6th anniversary in what has been tagged ‘Cross Country Celebration of Freedom and Creativity’, the Sir Eriata Oribhabor-led Poets In Nigeria (PIN) also commemorated World Mental Health Day on October 10, 2021, when it held a virtual literary hangout to read and discuss Aduke Gomez’s latest book that focuses on the disturbing subject matter that took an alarming dimension during and post-Covid-19 era, titled On Attending My Own Wake And Other Episodes. The author describes the book as “a collection of sad and emotional short poems that reflects the importance of having a good mental health.”
The PIN programme that also commemorated World Mental Health Day was hosted by Funke Awodiya and had guests from all over the world tuning in. There was also reading from the book by Nigerian poet, Solutionist Clementina. While speaking on the empathy the poems engender, Gomez said, “We’ve all been through difficult times globally, since the beginning of the pandemic, and the mental health of people have been negatively affected by all the happenings around us. We need to fine ways to show kindness to people. I believe family and friends help keep people strong, persuade others going through difficult times to keep going, and things will get better. People need to reach out more.” Gomez also spoke on people’s perceptions about poets having deep minds and imagining things, and writing about dark emotions, adding, “Some might think poets who write in such a way have suicidal intentions, because similar events have happened on social media, where people share messages expressing their pain just before they end their lives. Just because some poets write that way doesn’t mean they have suicidal intentions; there could be a problem, then again, there might not. You never can tell.
“There are many things to write about — love, hatred, death, and so on. Poets shouldn’t be restricted to writing on any one thing. I don’t think there is a mandate that everything a poet writes should be about hope.” Gomez also spoke about what needs to be done to build people’s mental health, so it doesn’t degenerate to the point of depression or generating suicidal intentions in people who are at the brink. According to her, “I’m not a mental health professional, but I think the question that should be asked here is, ‘how do we keep the feeling of community going?’ We are all presently living under pressure and we need to look out for one another; let people know you care about their well-being. We all have friends who are like family. We should show more kindness to people and reach out to those we haven’t heard from in a while to see how they’re doing.” A poet resident of the U.S., Adeyemi Oluwadiya, also shared a few words on what government could do to help, noting, “Mental health is a topic that should be on the front burner. The pandemic has a depressing effect on everyone.
I believe there should be a forum to discuss mental health, and the government should also help handle this issue. “Governments are capable of putting infrastructure in place to find solutions to this problem. Religious leaders should also be invited to forums where issues regarding mental health is being discussed. This way, they can also help their followers who come to them for help. This is a silent killer and a serious national issue, and now is the time to handle it.” In bringing the session to an end, the moderator, Awodiya, spoke about the uncomfortable silence usually maintained about mental health issues, largely because of the lack of understanding and stigma associated with it in this part of the world where raving mad is the only thing that comes to mind when mental health issues are being discussed,\. According to Awodiya, “People don’t really talk about mental health. But the more we talk about things like this the more we normalize mental health. Our gathering here also shows we care about our mental health and that of those around us, and we can lend our voices through poetry as a source of inspiration” to overcome it among those who are currently going through difficult times who appear hopeless and depressed.