Ololade Oketunbi, MSW ’22

By Robert Polner, NYU Public Affairs

Ololade Oketunbi stands on the sidewalk next to a wrought iron fence bordering a park. She is wearing a long-sleeved light green dress with white polka dots.Ololade Oketunbi’s strong interest in the subject of mental health motivated her to conduct an independent research project on ADHD-affected remote learners in the spring 2022 semester. The newly completed paper draws from a survey she conducted of 100 graduate and undergraduate students, including many fellow NYU students. It finds evidence that having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can negatively affect academic results and the ability to want to push through personal challenges. The academic difficulties ADHD can cause in such areas as focus and memory require further study, and the paper distinctively lays the groundwork for it.

Ololade’s project marks her path toward her goal of bringing skills and knowledge in mental health care to her home country of Nigeria. Her mother is a high school principal there and her father is a public relations manager.

Having just completed both a professional-grade study and her master’s degree program requirements at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work, Ololade is preparing for a professional licensing exam. She will soon relocate to Washington, DC, and will spend a year working in clinical settings, hoping for a chance to use the findings in her work. She will also apply to doctoral programs in clinical psychology, she says.

The youngest in her family, Ololade majored in psychology as an undergraduate student at Nigeria’s Covenant University. While there, she came to see that her fellow citizens accepted mental health professionals little and understood them less. Her perspective arose in part from her mother’s stories of troubled secondary school students who, as Ololade saw it, would have benefited from access to mental health care. The lack of access in her country troubles her to this day. “There is a dearth of mental health professionals in the community, and people don’t trust their work,” she says

Religiosity, she notes, seems to fuel this distrust.

“Because Nigeria is a very religious community, mental health problems are believed to have negative supernatural origins. Rather than a mental health professional, religious leaders and spiritual practitioners are consulted for mental health advice and care,” Ololade says.

When she returns home, she’ll take steps to begin working with other mental health professionals to bridge the societal divide, so “whenever someone sees a sign of mental illness in a child, a family member, or even themselves, they can seek out a mental health professional for help.” Just as her classes and research at NYU Silver highlighted what her study calls a “previously underexplored topic,” Ololade is on track to pioneer approaches to enhancing the well-being of young people in Nigeria and beyond. “I am truly excited about the path I am on,” she says.