CHULA: Breaking Barriers to Mental Health Through Film

By Rahwa Hassen, Medixaa Health Services


Ledet Muleta (center) with two patients at an Ethiopian mental health facility supported by MHS

The State of Mental Health Care in Africa and the Diaspora

According to the World Health Organization, 90% of countries in Africa have less than one psychiatrist per 100,000 people. In Nigeria, there are 0.10 psychiatrists per 100,000 people (2014); in Ethiopia, there are only 0.04 psychiatrists per 100,000 people (2011); and in Liberia, the ratio is a drastic 0.02 psychiatrists per 100,000 people (2014). These ratios demonstrate merely one aspect of the disparities seen in mental healthcare; other disparities include a lack of adequate facilities, cultural and social barriers such as stigma, and poor funding.

While comprehensive data on the state of mental health among the African diaspora remain inadequate, relevant statistics for specific groups such as the Somali and Congolese in the United States prove easily accessible.

Medixaa Health Services and CHULA

Medixaa Health Services (MHS), established in 2013 by Ledet Muleta, an Ethiopian-American psychiatric nurse residing in the Washington DC area, is a non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness of mental illness in order to reduce stigma and create a more informed community. MHS provides support and referral services upon request and is devoted to working with minority groups—particularly those in the African diaspora—to close the gap on mental health care disparities.

The fruition of MHS was a direct result of Ledet’s experience observing the lack of care and concern in regard to mental health in her travels throughout Africa and among the African diaspora. She writes, “I witnessed the burden of mental illness [and] I could no longer ignore the disparities that exist in both the African diaspora and the continent regarding mental illness. I decided that it was important to create something to address the ways that mental illness is stigmatized in our community and in doing so, empower those affected, provide awareness, and strive towards better solutions. This manifested itself in the film, CHULA.”

Why Create a Film?

CHULA 3Many have questioned why we chose film as a medium to relay CHULA’s message. We however ask: why not? A 2015 U.S. News & World Report article states, “most media portrayals of mental illness are stereotypical, negative, or flat-out wrong…” and that “more realistic portrayals of the everyday struggles associated with mental illness” are still needed. 

The film CHULA attempts to serve as one such portrayal.

CHULA’s Role

It is our hope that the film will serve as a platform to initiate discussions on the burden of mental illness and stigma in the hopes of raising awareness on the topic, particularly among the African and African diaspora communities. CHULA, however, is a film that transcends cultural boundaries and can benefit anyone who views it, as mental illness is a global concern.

If you would like to support us in our efforts, please consider donating to our Kickstarter campaign which will run until August 14th. Our goal is to raise $30,000 in order to complete the last few shoots and to cover editing and marketing expenses. Also, be sure to follow CHULA on the film’s website and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages to keep up with the latest updates!