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“What if…?” by Yusuf Babatunde

In October of 2022, we released our second Open Call: How might we view healing in mental health through art, letters, stories and poetry following the pandemic? The following is a poetry submission we received from this open call.

My submission titled “What if…?” is a short play about a young person whose life was halted during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was feeling down, depressed, and intimidated but wasn’t expressive enough on how he was feeling. His father and friends shunned him and didn’t understand what he was going through. He decided to take his life. The play reimagined the situations and tried to discover “what if..?” the scenes were quite different. Would he have ended up how he ended up? It highlights some lessons learned and how the general public and young people should be more involved in co-creating mental health interventions and services during and after the pandemic.

What if…?

“Reimagining a noteworthy event during the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic and creating a different possibility and outcome” – A short play



Setting the stage:

Steven is a second year medical student when the COVID-19 pandemic started in Nigeria. Students were forced to go home to their parents. It’s been four months of idleness and loneliness for Steven. On this particular day, Steven wakes up early in the morning, brushes his teeth, takes a quick shower, goes back to his room and starts pressing his smartphone with earphone plugged and listening to music. His Dad calls out,”steven….steven….steven” (no response)

Mr. Igwe storms to his bedroom and opens the door without knocking. Steven has no idea he was inside as he backed his door with loud music. His Dad calls with an angry shout, “steven!!!”

Steven: (In shock), Dad?? When did you……

Mr. Igwe: I’ve been calling you for the past 30mins, why haven’t you left your bed this morning? Is this how you don’t attend class in school? Have I been wasting my resources on your school fees?

Steven: I’m so sorry Dad. I’ve just been feeling down since the lockdown was initiated due to the pandemic. My studies have been halted and my future career as taken a different trajectory. I’m listening to music so I won’t have to keep thinking about it.

Mr. Igwe: Better stand up from that bed. Your friends have moved on and are exploring other options. You are here wailing. Steven: But Dad……

Mr. Igwe: I said stand up and do the home chores. This is not a debate.

What if Mr. Igwe was more subtle to his son and actually had a discussion with him at this very point on his uncertainties about his future career?



(Jude sends a WhatsApp text message to Steven, the conversation is as follows)

Jude: My guy. How you doing? Steven: I’m not so fine. How are you though?

Jude: Cheer up man! I got good news for you. I’m now a millionaire.

Steven: What!!!???

Jude: Yeah man. My Dad gave me some money to invest in crypto currencies. The investment just multiplied by 800%

Steven: Wow. I’m so happy for you my friend. This is great news. You made your first million whilst being in medical school. That’s so special

Jude: Yeah yeah. That’s not all. There’s a new coin I would like you to invest as well. There’s a huge market potential.

Steven: Oh awesome! I have no money though. Let me try to tell my Dad.

Jude: Alright man. Make it fast as the market is volatile

Steven: Sure

What if Jude was more of a friend and asked Steven why he was not doing fine at that particular moment?



(Steven went to meet his father in his bedroom after coming back from work. Mr. Igwe was on his phone when Steven entered)

Steven: Hey Dad. I have something to discuss with you

Mr. Igwe: What is it again? I am quite busy. Does it involve me spending any money?

Steven: Yes actually. I need some money to invest in…….

Mr. Igwe: The answer is no! You need to start taking care of yourself

Steven: But dad! I’m still a medical student with no job. I need…..

Mr. Igwe: No further discussion young man.

Steven: Dad please. All my friends are figuring it out and making money. I’m just in one place.

Nr. Igwe: (Ignores him)

What if Mr. Igwe listened properly and paid attention to Steven’s needs. What if he somehow gave Steven the money he needed to start his investments?

Fast forward……….

Five (5) days after, Steven was found dead in his room and beside him was a bottle of Gammalin-20; an herbicide (he had committed suicide).

Lessons learned Looking back at prior events before the day, what if the scenes turned out a little bit differently. You would agree with me that the ignorance from his father and friend sure didn’t help. Sometimes, mental health issues hides in the shadows. Young people are often predisposed to mental ill-health during a pandemic due to their repeated exposure to false information on social media and a halt in their studies or career leaving them idle or unemployed. Most times, it is up to the older and trusted adults in their lives to see the red flags and then reach out when they recognize them. This is too important to ignore. Although, this might be a little farfetched, it is thus important to engage the general public and most especially, young people to co-create mental health services and interventions specific to young people as part of a pandemic response and it is also important for these services to run during and after the pandemic.

What if there was a chatbot that Steven could engage with to provide the counselling he deserved?

What if there was a tele mental health platform available for Steven to e-meet a mental health expert?

By pondering the question what if…? We might be able to leverage on the public creativity to make mental health issues be viewed from the lens of the public to spur engagement and leading to innovation and intervention. Perhaps, Steven’s outcome might have been different.

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