Mental Health Matters!

Good mental health has long been defined as an absence of mental illnesses.

Good mental health has long been defined as an absence of mental illnesses.

Good mental health has long been defined as an absence of mental illnesses. However, organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) provide a more holistic definition of good mental health, which includes the capacity to handle the pressures of daily life in an efficient and timely manner, recognise the extent of one’s capabilities, maintain healthy relationships, and be a contributing member of society. 

In order to gauge the Sri Lankan population’s understanding of what good mental health is, we conducted our own primary research using a sample size of 444 people countrywide. We found that although 75% of our respondents’ beliefs were in line with the definition put forth by the WHO, 14% of participants maintained the belief that good mental health is simply ‘being happy all the time.’ This indicates a concerning lack of awareness of true mental wellbeing and its importance in the overall quality of our lives. ‘Happiness’ in and of itself should not be the target when taking measures to improve your overall mental wellbeing, but rather the target should be the return to or maintenance of a baseline level of functioning. 

Source: Kalyana Mini-Mental Health Survey, April 2021. 

Alcohol abuse has long been considered one of the most prevalent mental illnesses in Sri Lanka. Government data based on hospital admissions for mental health-related issues between 1996 and 2013 suggest that approximately 13,000 people were admitted to hospitals as a result of alcohol abuse in 1998, which fell to 6000 in 2013. It is important to note that these statistics only represent a fraction of the actual alcoholic population as a large percentage of people who abuse alcohol do not seek help, despite the profound negative impact that their behaviour has on themselves and their loved ones. These numbers are a strong indicator of how important it is to implement strategies that can reduce the harmful effects of the overconsumption of alcohol, not only on the mental well-being of alcoholics themselves but on that of their family members as well. Examples of strategies include:

  • Increasing awareness and education to shed light on the harmful effects of alcohol abuse
  • Introducing and encouraging alternative healthier coping strategies instead of reliance on alcohol
  • Increasing the capacity for the healthcare system to treat alcoholics and support their families
  • Increasing access to community support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous to support ex-alcoholics on their journey to sobriety
  • Introducing strict drink-driving regulations

Source: National Institute of Mental Health, Sri Lanka- Annual Report for 2019

A disturbing statistic that has received a lot of publicity in recent years is the fact that Sri Lanka is also home to one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Data pertaining to rates of suicide in the years 2011 to 2016 found that a total of 3025 people committed suicide in 2016, of which 2339 people were men. In 2017, the WHO reported a suicide mortality rate of 14.6 per 100,000 people in Sri Lanka. From our own field research, 22% of respondents to our survey answered ‘yes’ to having struggled with suicidal ideation or having attempted suicide at some point in their lives.  However, when asked if they knew where to look for information regarding mental wellbeing, 193 respondents (43%) reported that they did not know and 326 (73%) respondents said they were not aware of any mental health facilities available in their area. 

These disturbing findings highlight that a large percentage of people who are suffering from their mental health are doing so in silence, and are therefore not receiving the help that they need to remedy their mental well-being and to prevent it escalating to a critical stage. Therefore, it is extremely critical that as a society we place importance on encouraging open conversations on the topic of mental health in order to eliminate stigma and reassure those who are struggling that they are not alone and that there is hope for their recovery. 

Perhaps the most concerning finding from our online survey are that only 169 (38%) respondents said that nothing would hold them back from reaching out for professional help if they were struggling with their mental health.6 Other respondents cited embarrassment and the cultural taboo amongst other factors that would prevent them from getting help. These attitudes stem from the fear of burdening other people, or more commonly, the fear of bringing shame to themselves and their families, which is one of the biggest barriers to mental health care in Sri Lanka. 

Source: Kalyana Mini Mental Health Survey, April 2021. 

Mental illnesses can occur for a variety of reasons which include having a genetic predisposition to a certain illness, experiencing a traumatic life event, or suffering from some form of physical ailment. In fact, our mental health and our physical health are extremely interlinked, and those suffering from mental illnesses have been clinically proven to have a higher chance of developing physical illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, and vice versa. It is crucial that the population is educated on the different causes of mental illnesses as well as their possible consequences in order for each individual to be able to look after their mental health in a manner that is best suited to them.

Source: Ryding2health Blog, November 2020

We must all remember that mental illness or mental ill-health is something that can affect all people regardless of who they are, and that mental health care, therefore, needs to be prioritized and handled in the same manner as any other aspect of our well-being. 

At Kalyana we believe, with increased awareness and the right forms of care and support, anyone struggling with their mental health is able to lead a joyful and fulfilling life.

Kalyana ~ Helping Hands. Healthy Minds

Kalyana is a passionate collective dedicated to supporting the transformation of the mental health landscape through education, advocacy, collaboration, and community building. Kalyana was initiated by a group of more than 40 professionals from diverse backgrounds, all with a passion and commitment to enhance mental well-being in Sri Lanka

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