We Are Essex

Constance's story

Photo of Constance Ohanusi

"I want to take this back home, I want to rebrand the way mental health rehabilitation goes"

I’m so passionate about helping people with mental health issues, especially in my community in Nigeria. When I got married to my husband, his brother has mental health issues and it’s a taboo getting married to someone who has a family member with mental health issues, that’s how the culture is there; I remember before we got married someone telling me in front of him that I shouldn’t get involved with the family because of his brother. So I said ‘you know what? I’m going to fight this cause’. I met my husband in Nigeria. We were both in university and we were both staying at my uncle’s place. He finished university, but he didn’t get a job and I saw an advert in the newspaper and told him to apply but he wouldn’t do it, so I wrote the letter for him and he got the job! So he moved away for the job and then another man wanted to marry me, but his friend heard about it and got in touch with him and said ‘are you blind?! This is your wife!’ So that’s when he contacted me again. It was a lovely journey. We’ve been married 17 years now and we’ve got 4 kids. There are a lot of ladies out there that go through this, you have someone you want to marry but because of this issue around mental health, this stigma, you can’t do what you want to do. 

I had the opportunity to go and see my brother in law in one of the rehabilitation homes. Seeing him and how they are kept and how they are treated, it was so emotional; they handcuff them, the way they treat them got me so emotional. I thought ‘I can do something for these people’. 
I treat him with respect, he knows he can talk to me, he was the one who actually told me I would make a good nurse. 
Thank God that the University of Essex was the university to give me that opportunity to explore what I want to do. I didn’t have any knowledge of mental health, it’s new to me, but I’m coping, I’m getting there because of the practicals and placements we do. My purpose is to go back and give back to my community. I want to do this for the people there, I want to take this back home, I want to rebrand the way mental health rehabilitation goes, the way hospitals are treating people with mental health issues. You see here, there is a huge difference. You can still recover here, you can still live with your mental health issues and do other things, but there it’s not the same. The comparison is massive and I just want to do something to bridge that gap. That’s what got me here; I want to do it and I’m doing it with passion and I’m doing it with purpose. I just want to give back.

I’ve already started a charity which is going well and I’m saving to be able to fund it myself before I get other people in place. I’m trying to gather knowledge and information from different people on what we can do to make a change. I’m seeing a lot of positive minded people that are supporting me. I do some small events in my community, like in my church, talking about mental health stigmatisation in my community and comparing it to here and how we can change things. In December I did some small talks about it back at home, especially for families who have children with mental health issues. For me it was mind blowing that people still live in that way; their child has mental health issues and they think it’s a spiritual thing, they don’t take them to hospital, and that’s the end of that child. That’s the awareness that I’m trying to create, getting involved in the community and getting people to see my vision. I’m having a positive impact, so I think when I graduate I’m going to do amazing! I have a sister that is in to this too, so the two of us are liaising to get this done. Someone gave her some land and she’s planning on building her own rehabilitation centre.

My background was in finance, so the transition to mental health nursing was a massive one. My first placement, I had never worked in a mental health unit or a hospital before, but I walked in there and I was seeing a lot of things in the acute ward and I was like ‘can I do this or not?’ But my mentor was amazing, she started out the same way as me; when she started she didn’t have any knowledge, but today she is band 7, and she said to me ‘Constance, if I can do it, you can do it’. It’s been a lovely journey. I think in life you can’t just give up, especially if you have a dream. If you pursue your dream, it was actualise.

There is nothing that gives you better joy than caring for somebody. We all have that within us to put that smile on someone’s face. So if you’re interested in mental health, don’t listen to what people tell you about it being hectic, I tell you, it is so rewarding giving people joy or hope again, you should try it.


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