housands of people with mental health conditions in Sri Lanka and around the world are deprived of dignity and their basic human rights, including freedom from violence and abuse, inclusion in the community and in policy-making and freedom from discrimination. On Saturday Sri Lanka and the international community marked World Mental Health Day on the theme “dignity in mental health”– to raise awareness of what can be done to ensure people with mental health conditions can live free of stigma.
These are some key facts and figures about mental health: Depression affects an estimated 350 million people around the world, and more women are affected than men. It is one of the main causes of disability worldwide. Around 47.5 million people worldwide have dementia or loss of memory. This is usually chronic or progressive in nature. The condition means there is deterioration in the ability to process thought, beyond what might be expected from normal ageing. Bipolar disorder affects around 60 million people worldwide. It typically consists of both manic and depressive episodes, separated by periods of normal mood. Schizophrenia affects around 21 million people worldwide. Psychoses, including schizophrenia, are characterised by distortions in thinking, perception, emotions, language, sense of self and behavior, according to world mental health specialists.
While there is effective treatment for mental disorders and ways to alleviate the suffering caused, in low and middle-income countries between 76% and 85% of people with mental disorders receive no treatment for their disorder. Even in high-income countries between 35% and 50% of people with mental disorders receive no treatment.
The dignity of many people with mental health disorders is not respected. This includes being locked up in institutions where they are isolated and potentially subjected to abuse.
Some people are deprived of the right to make decisions about their mental health treatment and care and their personal lives – such as where they want to live. Some people are denied the right to work or education.
Stigma is rife and can have a knock-on effect on employment, which hinders mental health patients socially and economically. In Sri Lanka we still have a major attitude problem regarding mental health. While there may be care and concern for people suffering from physical ailments, most people tend to reject mental patients as ‘Pissas’ or ‘Angoda cases’. This adds insult to injury. With some 20 to 25 percent of Sri Lanka’s people known to be suffering from some form of mental imbalance we need a major attitude change or paradigm shift to find a solution to this epidemic which appears to be spreading faster with the development of modern technology.
According to statistics collected by Ministry of Health, every year around 8,000 patients are admitted to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) hospital in Mulleriyawa and 1,000 of them receive in-house long term treatment. A public exhibition, a creations fair and educational programmes for schoolchildren were held yesterday and the creations were by in-house patients of NIMH.
The National Council for Mental Health, a non-governmental movement has been set up with the objective of promoting and facilitating the development of mental health services in Sri Lanka; providing a range of mental health services including clinical and counseling services; raising awareness regarding community based mental health and providing education and training on mental health, for lay and medical personnel among others.
Not only on occasion such as this but every day we need to remember that we all are hurt more often in mind than in body. Unkind or hurtful words, rejection, lack of gratitude, doubt, worry and anxiety hurt our minds every day and every hour. Therefore we all are more often wounded in mind than in body. Therefore more care and concern for those who are injured in mind means care and concern for all of us who are mentally hurt, though in different degrees. So let us all mind our thoughts and our words about mental illness.
This is a timely article. Sri Lanka needs to do more for people with mental health problems. In the western world people afflicted with mental illness are given counseling support and housing support in addition to treatment. We need to have community education programmes to reduce Stigma on mental illness that is pervasive in our communities. The families of affected people need empathy and understanding from their neighbors for them to cope with the situation. Psychiatrists alone cannot treat mental illness. A team of doctors, mental health nurses, psychologists and social workers are necessary for interdisciplinary and holistic approach to treatment.
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