Mental Health! Ah, an old friend. Like so many out there I was once naïve and oblivious to what direct and oblique effects mental health would have on me. As a Sri Lankan, it’s not often you have the opportunity to educate yourself on mental health growing, let alone share you feelings. With the rise of the pandemic and going into lockdown, I could no longer avoid or distract myself from my feelings and insecurities with work. I had nothing but time to sit down and face it all. Suddenly, the problems crept up from under the rug I had been sweeping it under for many years.
This is when Sriyal Nilanka and Shanuki De Alwis, two prominent figures in the field of advocating for the awareness and education of mental health across the country joined us in a very special edition of ROI Social Talks in line with World Mental Health Day to discuss the realities of the everyday struggle.
To the ordinary ear, the webinar would’ve seemed educative and mindful. However, to the strugglers and everyday grind individual, this was special. The webinar indulged in discussions on the awareness factor in Sri Lanka. The island is known for many things but addressing mental issues is definitely not one of them. While Sri Lankans are mostly known to be dismissive of talks in line with mental health, the key element highlighted through the discussion was the lack of education from a primary level. Currently, the education system in the island does not incorporate or educate students on the aspects of mental health, its importance, effect, causes and remedies. This is largely due to the fact that the system hasn’t changed in decades due to the regressive mindsets of higher ups –
(surprise, surprise). The webinar indicated that the education system does not do justice to those suffering from a depressed mental health in the country and calls for a systematic change.
As the discussion progressed, one of the key questions posed was how one could help a friend who seems to be struggling without prying too much and Shanuki nailed the advice. According to her, letting an individual know that you are there for them to communicate with you and reach out only when they are comfortable as opposed to pulling it out of them is a stronger mode of helping them find peace in knowing that they are safe in your presence.
Furthermore, the webinar opened up the floor for discussions on the mental health struggles that individuals from the LGBTQI community face day in and day out, especially in the hands of the commanding forces in Sri Lanka. In the recent past, news reports have shown that a high number of individuals from the community have been harassed by police in Sri Lanka and arrested on unlawful grounds as well. Record numbers of arrests have been made in this regard with little to no regard of the law.
Sriyal, a Program Officer at the Family Planning Association (FPA), spoke on the matter and extensively explained that seeking legal counsel was the way to go as it is not illegal to be a part of the LGBTQI community in Sri Lanka. Sriyal went on to highlight likes of Aritha Wickremesinghe, a lawyer, for those in need of assistance.
A key and prominent part of the webinar was when one of the viewers addressed the death of a close friend who had taken his own life. A grim topic but a much-needed discussion. By no means will a loss of a life be bearable, ever. The subject brought on by the viewer was discussed thoroughly, and if you’re reading this, know that while we all possess the ability to help save lives, sometimes it doesn’t work the way we intend or hope it would. It’s the circle of life. Too often, when one makes the absolute decision to take their life, it’s almost always seen through. The fault however, does not lie with the loved ones.