Temitope Omolehinwa started her foundation, Hay Foundation, a mental health advocacy foundation after she wrote, developed and produced a photo series on Depression and Suicide. It was only after this that she realised that writing a story was not enough and took training in Mental health. Today, as the founder of Hay Foundation, she is leaving her dream of ensuring that the stigmatised have a place they can feel safe.
What initiated the creation of the Hay foundation?
I developed a photo series centred around depression. It spoke to the role of society, government, family members, friends, in supporting individuals living with depression and suicide prevention. I felt like that was not enough because it was just a story and thought that in a few more minutes, I will write a new story that will make me move on from this. So I called some friends who studied psychology and pitched my idea to them about a mental health foundation, which would revolve around curbing mental health stigma and mental health awareness.
What are the core values Hay foundation is built on?
Confidentiality, sense of community, reliability, and spirituality.
How does the foundation reach out to victims?
More often than not, individuals reach out to us via social media. Also, through referrals from people who know about the work we do.
Which role does the foundation play in helping sexual assault victims?
We provide mental health first aid support in the form of resources, support groups and counselling sessions to victims of sexual assault when they reach out to us. If they need further professional help to deal with their trauma, we facilitate that as well.
What case scenarios of sexual assault are mostly presented?
We see a variety of sexual assault cases. Mostly sexual harassment and sexual abuse, including rape and molestation.
How would you say the justice system reacts to sexual assault cases?
The justice system does not react to sexual assault cases with the swiftness and seriousness it deserves. Survivors of sexual assault have to go through a lot of difficulties to even get the justice process started. Hospitals charge a lot to generate a report for the survivors and even when they can afford this report, the police do not act swiftly and will often tell them to settle out of court and sometimes blame the victim.
Is there any form of sexual assault you think has been overlooked in society today?
Sexual assault, in general, is overlooked in this part of the world, especially when it comes to sexual abuse against the male gender. Often men are ridiculed when they open up about their abuse, and most will not even report it. Also, other forms of sexual assault such as harassment and molestation are overlooked. In this part of the world, if it is not rape, then you should not be talking about it. However, these make up sexual harassment and should not be overlooked.
What challenges does the foundation experience?
I would say our biggest challenge is getting people to accept help. Although times are changing, talking about mental health and mental illness is still riddled with stigma. As such, even when people seek out for help, it is still a challenge getting them to open up or accept treatment.
How intense is the healing process for sexual assault victims?
Healing is personal for each victim, each case is different, so it is hard to speak to the intensity of the healing process. Healing from a sexual assault experience is a very difficult journey and requires a lot of support from the people around you.
Do you think society plays a major role in the healing process of a victim?
Society plays a major role. Healing from a sexual assault experience requires unconditional support from the people around the individual. Sometimes, individuals do not get such support, rather they are met with blame, shame and judgement adding on the trauma they are already going through. We all must recognize we have a role to play as a society and believe victims when they speak up, and providing them with whatever support they may need.
So far, how has the journey been?
The journey I will say has been both fulfilling and challenging. On one hand, it’s been great to see more people open up their struggles and say they have been impacted positively by the work we do. On the other hand, there are still more people who do not understand mental health issues and as such, perpetuate the stigma. I strongly believe with time, we will get to a place where we can all have mental health conversations freely.
Which ways do you suggest could help rid the society of sexual assault cases?
I think the first thing is education. We can all help end rape culture in our small corners by educating our family, friends, coworkers. We must not be silent when we see problematic behaviours, but use that as an opportunity to educate people so they can do better.