October 25 (newsin.asia) – Mental health is often either neglected or not prioritised, particularly in many developing countries including Sri Lanka. This is primarily due to a lack of awareness about mental health and its significance on our overall well-being.
Mental well-being plays as important of a role as our physical health…
So what is mental health – mental health encompasses our psychological, emotional and social well-being. This means it impacts how we feel, think and behave each day.
It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Being healthy emotionally & mentally can promote productivity and effectiveness in activities like work, school or caregiving, and allows you to adapt to changes in your life and cope with adversity. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood and old age.
Negative attitudes to mental illness, social stigma and a lack of appreciation of the suffering and disability caused by mental illness resulted in low priority being given to mental health care services in Sri Lanka in the past. The situation is further exacerbated as the diagnosis of a mental illness is not often something that can be witnessed by the naked eye, hence the stigma continues.
The tide is beginning to shift
Over the past few decades in Sri Lanka, there have been substantial developments in the field of mental health, including key policies. Outreach clinics are now present in almost all health divisions, with a total of 215 clinics nationwide.
Mental health outreach services have enabled people with mental illness to receive treatment and follow-up within their community. New education programmes have been introduced from Diploma to Master’s degree to strengthen the mental health workforce. Every district in Sri Lanka has at least one doctor with a diploma in psychiatry according to the WHO Policy Brief, Public Health Success in Sri Lanka.
Additionally, there have been numerous initiatives led by university groups, local and global private organizations hard at work to raise awareness, and offer mental health care support. This has resulted in the importance of mental wellbeing slowly starting to gather attention in the public eye.
Despite this, low mental health literacy continues to be a critical issue particularly at the grassroot levels outside of Colombo, highlighting an urgent need to educate the public on mental health and related issues and to provide accessible basic services of good quality to meet the emerging needs of people living in the community.
A large portion of the population suffering from mental illness does not seek treatment…
1 out of 8 people in Sri Lanka suffer from a mental illness, yet only 40% receive treatment according to WHO Depression Fact Sheet, Sri Lanka, 2017.
2015 statistics estimate the prevalence of depression in Sri Lanka at 4.1%, and anxiety disorders at 3.4% as stated by the World Health Organization in 2017.
There is approximately 1 consultant psychiatrist per ~500,000 persons with these psychiatrists placed at the national, provincial and district levels in the health system. The shortage of trained mental health specialists is a key contributing factor for the inadequate mental health care, further aggravated by the uneven distribution of psychiatrists across the country, with one-fourth of psychiatrists based in the city of Colombo alone (See Table 1).
Given the scarcity of mental health specialists, the need for continued effort on mental health development will be crucial in the coming years.
Kalyana is a non-profit organization that started at the end of 2019 when Amendra (Harin) de S Wijeyeratne voiced his ideas to support the mental well being of the people in Sri Lanka and his vision for a “Mind Gym”. Together with Rekha Krishnamoorthy, they decided to set up a volunteer group dedicated to these efforts.
In August of 2019, Kalyana conducted an impromptu web survey of over 300 respondents, over the course of 2 weeks. The results of the survey indicated an overwhelming majority of respondents struggling with their mental health and a small percentage of those likely to seek professional help for their issues.
Shortly after the close of the survey, the group held a half-day brainstorming session on August 18, 2019, to discuss strategies to support the prevention and early intervention for mental health in Sri Lanka, giving birth to Kalyana.
The term “Kalyana” comes from Kalyana Mitta, a Pali term; “Kalyana” meaning lovely or beautiful and “Mitta” meaning friend. The meaning of “Kalyana”, lovely and beautiful, does not refer to one’s physical attractiveness, but to the inner qualities of conviction, loving-kindness, compassion, virtue, generosity, wisdom etc.
The term stems from a Buddhist concept that in the English language is also described as “admirable friend” or a “good friend”. At Kalyana, our aim is to be a helping hand (a friend) to enable others to rediscover more peace, freedom, and joy in their lives and promote a healthy mindset.
Over the past year, Kalyana has been involved in several initiatives including collaborating with the National Institute of Mental Health (“NIMH”) in supporting their programs, funding scholarships for counsellor training programs at the Damrivi Foundation and raising support funding for specific infrastructure needs of local hospitals.
On June 1st, 2020 Kalyana officially launched their Instagram page as part of their social media outreach efforts and successfully hosted their first Open Mic event on Mental Health Awareness Day, October 10, 2020. As part of this Open Mic event, a group of 7 artists shared their own struggles with mental health and performed a song/poem of their choice that reflected their journey and struggles.
Kalyana is currently developing a website which is expected to launch at the end of November – the goal of the website is to be a one-stop resource hub for all things mental health-related.
Kalyana is also looking at hosting a poetry slam, art exhibition and live discussions in the near future to offer the public a platform to be able to share their stories and inspire others on their own mental health journey.
The public can reach out to Kalyana on the below platforms:
Instagram – @kalyanasl
Facebook – @kalyana.srilanka19 or simply Kalyana.
Email – [email protected]