In a recent and insightful interview, we had the distinct privilege of engaging in a conversation with Professor Dr Taiwo Lateef Sheikh – MB.BS (ABU), M.Sc, FWACP, Cert. GMH (Harvard), the newly appointed Continental Representative for LifeLine International for the continent of Africa. With a distinguished background as a prominent professor of psychiatry, a practicing psychiatrist, and a passionate advocate for both mental health awareness and suicide prevention, Professor Dr Sheikh enters his role equipped with a remarkable wealth of experience. Hailing from the vibrant nation of Nigeria, he has devoted himself to the task of reshaping prevailing attitudes and policies that pertain to suicide across the African landscape. Through his extensive expertise and unwavering commitment to addressing the pressing challenges associated with mental health, Sheikh emerges as a pivotal figure in propelling positive transformation throughout the continent.
Taiwo Lateef Sheikh’s journey to becoming a Continental Representative for Lifeline International in Africa is characterised by an exceptional dedication to the field of mental health. Holding the distinguished position of Professor of Psychiatry/Psychopharmacology, at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, as well as the National Secretary of the West African College of Physicians (Nigeria) and President of Nigeria’s Biological Psychiatry Society, his expertise is further underscored by his affiliation with the Faculty of Global Mental Health at Harvard Medical School. His impact extends beyond academia as he has played an instrumental role in shaping mental health legislation, advocating for policy reforms, and effectively debunking cultural and religious misconceptions that often shroud discussions around suicide.
Sheikh’s motivation to confront the intricate challenges within the realms of mental health and suicide prevention in Africa is deeply rooted in his compassion for those grappling with these issues. His unwavering belief in the potential for positive change, particularly among the youth, fuels his efforts. Recognising the precarious threat that suicide poses to everyone’s collective future, he works to dispel cultural and religious stigmas that can hinder open dialogue and necessary support systems. His approach is centred on fostering a profound shift in perceptions through culturally sensitive initiatives that respect diverse traditions, making him an instrumental catalyst for change.
Working with LifeLine International aligns with Sheikh’s personal goals. By leveraging the resources, technological advancements, and expertise offered by LifeLine International, he envisions the establishment of crisis centres, the implementation of data-driven tools for effective intervention, and a proactive advocacy campaign that emphasises the importance of mental health policy reforms. This strategic alignment also resonates with the broader public health objectives of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), which underscores the imperative of addressing mental health as a vital component of overall well-being.
One of the most profound challenges in transforming attitudes towards suicide in Africa is navigating the intricate tapestry of cultural, traditional, and religious beliefs that profoundly shape perceptions. Sheikh acknowledges the existence of these deeply ingrained misconceptions, which often view suicide through a lens of malevolence and fear of negative consequences in both community and afterlife. To address this challenge, he notes the critical importance of culturally sensitive approaches that provide viable alternatives while respecting the value of traditions. Collaborations with global organisations like LifeLine International facilitate a comprehensive and effective strategy to address these challenges while honouring the rich cultural diversity present in Africa today.
The significance of international collaboration in the realm of suicide prevention cannot be understated, especially in countries where suicided remains a crime. By combining efforts with Lifeline International, Sheikh can help bridge gaps in knowledge, collect data, exchange best practices, and adapt globally proven interventions to local contexts. Through this collaborative approach, sustainable changes can be implemented to better support individuals at risk of suicide and to foster a society where mental health challenges are met with understanding, empathy, and effective solutions.
Professor Dr Taiwo Lateef Sheikh is an inspirational force dedicated to reshaping Africa’s approach to mental health and suicide prevention. His new position as the Continental Representative of LifeLine International for Africa not only signifies his impressive achievements but also symbolises hope for a brighter future where mental health is prioritised and misconceptions surrounding suicide are dispelled. We are proud to have him join our team.