EDITORIAL-Mental Illness: Let’s all be mindful of our attitudes

10 October 2014 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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ith the Health Ministry’s latest surveys showing that as many as 2.3 million Sri Lankans are suffering from mental disorders, we join the world and the World Health Organisation in marking World Mental Health Day.

The Angoda-based National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) will conduct a mental-health walk today from 7.00 a.m. at Diyatha Uyana in Battaramulla. From today till Monday the institute will also conduct an exhibition significantly tittled Mindful Creations -- feelings, art, crafts and photographs by those recovering from mental disorders. The institute says it is inspiring to see how much people with mental health problems could achieve by rebuilding their self confidence by giving them a sense of value, opportunities and hope.  The NIMH has invited the people to join it to value the creativity of people recovering from mental disorders and helping them to live an independent life with dignity and self-respect.

According to the WHO, World Mental Health Day is observed every year with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health. The Day provides an opportunity for stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work and on what more needs to be done to make mental healthcare a reality for people worldwide. The theme for this year is, “Living with schizophrenia”. The focus will be on living a healthy life with schizophrenia -- a severe mental disorder affecting more than 21 million people worldwide. People living with schizophrenia or other severe mental disorders die on average 10-25 years earlier than the general population, the WHO says. This year the WHO is calling attention to steps that could be taken to help people with schizophrenia and other severe mental disorders to live longer and healthier lives.

The NIMH says at least one in ten Sri Lankans suffer from some type of mental illness or trauma. This startling figure came from a study done by the WHO in 2011 and the figure now may be much higher with the Health Ministry planning to conduct a full-scale survey next year.

The WHO study found that the causes for Sri Lanka’s mental illnesses were varied and complex, though most professionals believe that the 30-year ethnic war and the 2004 tsunami were among the main causes. This is broadly known as the post-conflict trauma syndrome with superpowers such as the United States suffering heavily from such ailments in the aftermath of the wars in Vietnam and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

According to national mental health data, two in every 100 Sri Lankans have or are experiencing a serious mental illness ranging from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder.

However mental problems can be treated so that people can recover from them in full and hopefully lead normal lives. Nearly 80 percent of these patients, once treated, will go on to make a full recovery. NIMH specialists say the social stigma is one of the biggest barriers faced by such people.

“The stigma faced by mental patients can make it awfully difficult for them to motivate themselves to get better. Everyone has a role to play to end discrimination against mentally ill people,” a NIMH official said.

 Major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder require medication to restore the imbalance of chemical substances in the brain.
 A helpline has also been set up for people having mental health problems. They could call 1333 for a confidential, anonymous counselling service that provides guidance and emotional support to people facing such challenges.

On such occasions we need to remember that all the people suffer mental injuries much more regularly than physical injuries. Therefore in different degrees everyone is mentally hurt and we need to change our attitudes, approach and even words like, ‘Pissa’ or ‘Angoda cases’. If we are caring and compassionate towards people suffering from physical ailments like cancer or heart decease then we need to be more compassionate towards those suffering from mental illness. If the stigma is taken away it would mean going more than 50 percent towards full healing.   
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