Irene Ngopi Wellness Foundation (INWF) is inspired by Ms. Irene Ngopi’s life story. Irene Ngopi, 45 years old female, born and living in Central Africa, Cameroon, is the third child out of seven siblings. Ireneis a joy and inspiration to all she comes in contact with. Irene is truly a free spirit. People who are privileged to love and know Irene are comforted by the fact that her story has transformed and she now enjoys a tremendously improved quality of life.
Growing up she was referred to as a witty, focused, assertive, and zealous young lady. Irene attended Catholic Church and was an active member of the youth movementsduring her middle school years. Participating in youth trips, camps, and small group meetingswere some of her favorite activities. From an early age, Irene was active in all domains but her main hobbies were storytelling, writing poetry, dancing,dressing up, travelling, volunteering, advocacy, etc. Irene loved Literatureand would often share her love for Arts.She told stories for entertainment, informational purposes, and for educational purposes.
As every enthusiastic young girl, Irene’s main dream which she will often share with family and friends was becoming an international social advocate for the underserved and minority. This was evident in her exceptional academic performances and echoed in her involvement in extracurricular activities.
She started engaging in a variety of social change and public policy volunteer work as early as age eight. One morning, at age nine, Irene woke up in tears and complained of severe pain to her left lower leg. She was immediately rushed to the hospital and after several months of testing and symptom management she was diagnosed with a genetic lymphatic disease to her left leg.
This has left Irene with chronic pain and left lower leg edema. Being an overcomer, Irene did not let her health stop her from pursuing her dreams. She will miss several days of school due to severe pain and inability to walk yet she will struggle on her own to catch up on lessons missed and still meet up with her after-school activities. Her strength, determination, and enthusiasm to meet her goals was obsessing.
At age 11, she used her challenges as an opportunity to help others. She became so passionate about helping other sick children who were missing school. So, she campaigned and organized a “sick study club” in which her, some teachers and a few students volunteered to stay after school three times a week and assisted students at various grade levels who missed classes due to ill health, and reviewed materials missed. Irene is a firm believer of providing everyone equal learning opportunities and knowledge so that everyone, irrespective of their health, has the chance to excel. Throughout her school years into adult hood she tutored, held several office positions, was part of protest campaigns, advocacy groups and many more.
However, in her early 20’s while pursuing her 1st degree in Social Science, Irene started encountering difficulties in interpersonal relationships and difficulty making decisions. She gave birth to a beautiful daughter who is now in her 20s. Shortly after, Irene started losing interest in the things she had previously enjoyed. She began missing classes, withdrew from social activities, was unwilling to communicate freely, verbalized regret and displayed lack of motivation and focus so much that it impaired her ability to function day to day and she dropped out of final year of college.
Given that mental health is still a stigma in Cameroon, lack of access to mental health care, and awareness is extremely poor, no one quickly realized that Irene was struggling mentally, yet everyone wondered why Irene had become weak and different. Medical attention was sought frequently but she remained undiagnosed. Mood disorder scales are unheard of in Cameroon so unlike blood pressure or diabetes, the are no numbers attached to mental health that can easily raise an alarm and point to a silent yet severe and damaging progressive mental health mood disorder called depression.
Unfortunately, every indicator was missed. Day by day, month by month, year after year Irene’s affect and thought were centered around sadness, anxiety, pessimistic feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, loss of pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed and difficulty in making decisions. She turned from an energy bubble to a languid lady who struggled some days to get out of bed or perform basic self-care and activities of daily living.
This mental health symptoms progressed into her 30’s where she again encountered two major inciting medical incidents that exacerbated her undiagnosed depression. She suffered a major stroke and shingles. Given the limited rehabilitation facilities at that time, she was only able to recover partially and till today she is left with permanent right sided weakness, language and cognitive deficits that impair her mobility, function, and ability to communicate. Also, the shingles caused severe ocular nerve damage that resulted in left eye blindness. Although she received medical attention, lack of awareness, stigma, cultural barriers, and lack of mental health resources in Cameroon, left Irene’s mental health unaddressed. She progressively decompensated until February of 2010 where there was a glimpse of hope in Irene’s life who at that time had become catatonic and lived in isolation.
Following intensive research by the family as to why their beautiful and very promising Irene had lost all she was and ever dreamt of becoming, Irene was referred to a mental health hospital where she received her first diagnosis, following 20 plus years of undiagnosed mental illness. Unfortunately, with the limited resources, pharmacologically and non-pharmacologically, treatment for catatonic depression is limited. Irene’s response was very minimal.
Out of desperation to see Irene get better, regain function, and live a better quality of life, the founders of INWF embarked in an educational goal to pursue advanced degrees in primary mental health. As the adage says, “Knowledge is key”, it is indeed the key that continuous to unlock Irene from the bondage she has been in over 20 years. As practicing Primary Mental Health Nurse practitioners, the founders of INWF have invested passion, knowledge, and skills into Irene’s mental health and today Irene is receiving adequate quality individualized treatment that has tremendously improved her mental health, functioning, self-esteem, and overall quality of life. She is more engaging, smiles and enjoys the simple art of LIVING one day at a time as she recovers, something so many of us take for granted.
We have so many of Irene’s around the world who deserve a chance and INWF is committed to raising awareness, bringing hope and healing to all humanity suffering from mental illness. No one deserves their dreams snatched by mental illness, talk less of going undiagnosed for more than 20 years. Mental health is devastating, but INWF through charity, education and wellness promotion, is dedicated in making a difference in the lives of individuals and communities at large. We call on everyone to take a closer look at their families, loved ones, coworkers, communities, and friends and you will possibly find someone struggling mentally and in need of help-we need not wait! We need the whole world to join us NOW in this journey of changing lives; one at a time in a world that is devastated with mental health crisis.