“Chula” is a new film led by Muleta that aims to dispel the myths around mental health in Africa.
Ledet Muleta, a 37-year-old Ethiopian-born nurse who now lives in Washington, D.C., has travelled across the African diaspora to tackle the disparities in mental health care and worked to combat the stigmas that surround it. Her work eventually inspired her to launch the non-profit organization Medixaa Health Services, which aims to fight against the stigmatization of mental illness across the continent.
Through her organization, Muleta created “Chula,” a film project that chronicles one young Ethiopian woman’s battle with bipolar disorder and her experience living in Africa among a family that seemingly fails to understand the serious impact of her mental illness. Muleta believes the young woman’s story in the film reflects the life of millions of others on the continent who don’t receive adequate attention or aid in regards to the mental health issues they face. Because of this, she has launched a Kickstarter campaign that aims to raise money to fund the full making of the film which is almost done and ready to be marketed. When complete, Muleta said “Chula” will help to generate more awareness around what African families can, and should, do to better address the needs of mental health patients. So far, the film has raised more than $20,000.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Muleta opened up about “Chula” and how she hopes the film will be used as a tool to educate those across the African diaspora, and beyond, about the effects of mental illness.
With the film, “CHULA,” I want to reduce the stigma of mental illness so people realize it is treatable just like any other chronic illness. The film presents mental illness as non-discriminatory since it affects people from all backgrounds. The film reverses that notion through the main character Chula, a rising and talented pianist, who comes from a wealthy family of Ethiopian origin in suburban Washington, D.C. My African heritage has always taught me to show sympathy to those who are elderly, sick, and those who need assistance. Unfortunately, my culture has also taught me to discriminate against those affected by mental illness ― luckily that is a notion I have unlearned. The illness is treated quite differently from other medical conditions. More often it is associated with spiritual or religious issues. Sometimes those affected are blamed for bringing these issues onto themselves. Another misconception is that all mental illnesses have the same set of symptoms which is untrue. Additionally, those living with mental illness are perceived to have lost their ability to be integrated within their communities and contribute to society. That is why the film “CHULA” will be used to dispel some of the myths of mental illness.” said Muleta.
The biggest difference between the stigma in the African community and the stigma in the black community, comes down to a difference in culture. In the African diaspora, there is cultural illiteracy when it comes to issues of mental health. It’s shocking when people come from the continent, where mental illness is not acknowledged, and enter a society where mental illness (although stigmatized) is discussed .she explained the difference through the interview and also how hard it is for them to communicate.
“One of the major stigmas surrounding mental illness [in Africa] is simply that it doesn’t exist.”