The need to remove the stigma attached around mental health has been discussed in various platforms and the need to support and empower the well-being of those struggling with mental illnesses is crucial at all cost. The World Mental Health Day is commemorated today and it should be noted that many institutions are committed to raising awareness on the importance of mental health and how to address such issues in a positive note.
Safa Counselling Centre is one such institution that is recognized as a registered, non-governmental organization and is a project led by the Sri Lanka Muslim Women’s Conference. Spearheaded by the President of the Sri Lanka Muslim Women’s Conference and the President of the Safa Counselling Centre,Sikhamani Ameena Faisz Musthapha is also a senior and professional counsellor, who has committed her precious time for the upliftment of the mental well-being of many individuals through insightful lectures and counseling sessions. She was formerly a lecturer at the Family Studies and Services Institute which is a pioneer organization in marriage and pre-marriage counselling. The organization was formerly headed by the late Rev. Fr. Mervin.
‘Because we are very much involved with mental health and counselling, we thought of commemorating World Mental Health Day, which falls on October 10. We have planned to host an event in the near future to fall in line with the World Mental Health Day’ says Ms. Musthapha. She said that the event would focus its attention on breaking the stigma attached around mental illness while making an appeal to educate families on why it is important to not overlook matters related to mental health at any cost.While emphasizing the need to treat those affected with mental illness in a kind and humane manner, she also noted the vital need for the diagnosis of the illness and professional assistance.
‘When I came back, I noticed that the divorced rate is high among the Muslim community and I wanted to do something for our community. I wanted to start a counselling centre and a pre- marriage programme for them. When I suggested this to others, there were many good responses from counsellors, motivation speakers and successful professionals. We, together started preparing modules for pre-marriage counselling courses and other programmes. I received a big donation of thirty million rupees from IDB, which was utilized for establishing the large counselling centre at Kalubowila, namely the Safa Counselling Centre. The Centre was established in November 2015. We commenced our programmes at this establishment and also opened a counselling centre in the same premises where different types of problems were addressed such as parenting, marital stress etc. We have a very professional and confidential team of professionals to attend to such matters. We commenced our pre-marriage programme simultaneously for young couples who are planning to get married and for those who have just got married. These programmes were all conducted in English medium and were very successful in delivering a good service’ she added.The Centre also promotes self enhancing programmes such as anger management, stress relief and addiction.
People friendly counselling sessions
Despite its initial success, after realizing that the majority of people preferred to have the programme conducted in Tamil, arrangement was made to deliver the service in the preferred medium of language. Following a consultation with Azmiyas Saheed, the Director of the National Institute of Social Development, arrangements were done to conduct programmes in Tamil. “We have conducted several programmes in the Tamil medium at the YMMA (Young Men’s Muslim Association) in Dematagoda, Malwana, Akurana and Kahatowita. Since our knowledge was communicated to a very limited number of people, We decided to conduct a three day training programme known as the Training of Trainee Counsellors (TOT) to start Pre-Marital Counselling services around the island under Safa Counselling Centre. They can take back the message to any part of the island. These programmes were held in Akurana, Kandy and Matale. Now we are planning to have another similar session conducted in the eastern province. We don’t receive any funds except for what we get from generous donors to maintain the centre. The Safa Counselling Centre is purely a service oriented institution committed to the welfare of people. The counselling centre is open for anyone in need of professional help” Musthapha said. Reflecting on how grateful the participant were, Mustapha said that the programme has facilitated in raising much awareness on marriage and in shifting the participants’ focus beyond the horizons of wedding plans only.
Safa Counselling Centre is one such institution that is recognized as a registered, non-governmental organization and is a project led by the Sri Lanka Muslim Women’s Conference
Safa Counselling Centre has been instrumental in launching several projects such as marriage workshops mainly to enlighten young men and women aspiring to marry or who are already married on how to overcome the increasing risks of divorces which have significantly increased in the country. As much as minimizing the risks of divorce rates in Sri Lanka, the workshop also focuses on the avenues to build, improve and maintain healthy relationship that should be nurtured and developed between a husband and wife.
‘Shantialaya’ Home for Mentally Ill Patients
Adding to the above, it is also worthy of note that the Richmond Fellowship Lanka has been in operation in Sri Lanka for over twenty years and contributing immensely to the cause of mental health in this country. Richmond Fellowship was inaugurated in 1998 under the guidance of late Ms. Malini Balasingham, who had a vision to institute a ‘half way home’ for in house rehabilitation, where inmates referred to as clients, would be admitted to the home for a maximum period of two years.
According to Musthapha, a meeting with Ms. Ellen Jansen, Founder Member of the Richmond Fellowship in London paved Balasingham the way to lay the set up for a Richmond Fellowship to be inaugurated in Sri Lanka. In addition to its objective of setting up an in house rehabilitation centre for clients suffering with mental illnesses, the institution also focuses its attention on advocating on all aspects related to mental illness among the community. The Richmond Fellowship Sri Lanka is a non-profit and registered company with the Ministry of Social Services and the Ministry of Health of Sri Lanka.
‘When patients are discharged from the Mulleriyawa hospital, they are often sent back to their homes where often family members do not know how to treat or take care of them. Under the supervision of late Balasingham, a home was established for such inmates at Bopitiya as ‘Shantialaya – a heaven of peace, care and tranquility. With the contributions of generous donors, we were able to purchase a 40-perch block of land from Bopitiya, close to Ja-Ela where we built the home. The two storeyed building can comfortably accommodate 25-30 residents. Currently, I work in the capacity of the Patron for ‘Shantialaya’ Home for Mentally ill Patients.
During my visit to London, I received sufficient funds to have two homes built for males and females separately. We conduct different therapies here, that range from vocational therapy to dancing and music. Once the patients are discharged from the hospital in Mulleriyawa, they are often directed to our home where we have a nurse, doctor, matron and a warden who run the place very well’ Musthapha added. She concluded by saying that there were many cases of successfully rehabilitated individuals who have left the ‘half way homes’ to live within the community.
Pix by Pradeep Dilrukshana and Pradeep Pathirana