2019 Jan 16
Throughout life, many of us experience our highs and lows, some more intensely than others. Despite what another may look like on the surface, there’s no way to fully understand what a person is going through unless we face the same difficulties ourselves.
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. However it has not been a topic that was openly discussed in Sri Lanka. The largest barrier between the person suffering with a mental illness and getting the help they need is the stigma and shame surrounding it within our society.
Shmana Whittall lived a relatively normal life being a Sri Lankan living in Australia. However in 2017, she faced a wide range of difficulties pertaining to her mental health which she now shares with the general public. Hoping to end the stigma surrounding mental health and mental illnesses, Shmana mentioned that she too found it difficult to reach out and openly speak of her drawbacks even though being vocal was among the few things that helped her revert back to a normal state of mind.
“Mental health is a taboo subject, it is not something people want to talk or open up about. People don’t want to admit that they have mental illnesses or know someone suffering with them. Even in my case, it wasn’t something we opened up to the public about because it was not that easy. We need to change that.”
Suffering from depression, anxiety, paranoia, and bipolar disorder, Shmana Whittall described that the person she used to be was simply morbid. With a condition as severe as hers, Shmana was hospitalized twice; first at Park Hospital Colombo, before being transferred to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) – Angoda.
“For me it took a lot of motivation, a lot of talking, waiting for people to come and see me, a lot of food and basically a lot of love and kindness. NIMH is a really good place contrary to popular belief and I think it needs a lot more support from us to develop further.”
The public perception of NIMH – Angoda, referred to as a ‘lunatic asylum’ where crazy people are sent to, is largely skewed. It is far from a ‘madhouse’. According to Shmana, “people who get treatment at Angoda and leave, are labelled – it’s something that always happens”. Due to these labels and misconceptions, many people who require the right consultation and treatment are in fact afraid to get the help they need.
What many fail to understand is that NIMH – Angoda employs consultant psychiatrists that undergo specialized training to fully take care of the patients that NIMH has. Especially since its renovation in 2008, the conditions of NIMH has improved vastly. The immense plot of land is filled with airy spaces, gardens and greenery with many areas for outdoor seating and relaxation. The conditions within the buildings have improved as well, with emphasis on the furniture, freshly painted walls and reduction of a dreary atmosphere.
Yet even with these renovations, NIMH still has a long way to go to improve. Except for NIMH’s psychiatrists, its many medical officers and support staff lack specialized training, which is a rather pressing issue. Although the consulting psychiatrists assess and diagnose each patient, there is a serious lack of psychological care available in the form of therapy or counseling needs. Patients often undergo largely used methods at NIMH such as drug medication and Electro Convulsive Therapy, which Shmana herself was no stranger to. The inclusion of psychotherapy, counseling and other forms of therapy will provide a healthier and more effective method of treatment.
Cue ‘Fearless Charities’, a charity run by Shmana Whittall, raising funds for many causes; NIMH being one. As a healthy individual, Shmana focuses on giving back to the place that helped her and encourages the local public to help aid her cause as well, enabling NIMH to introduce new facilities and enhance its existing services.
To contribute to her cause, check out their Facebook page @fearlesscharities.
Mental health is not something that should be taken lightly. Just as we take care of the many important organs in our body, we need to understand that our brain is a vital organ as well. Mental illness is a very real thing and it is our duty as humans to be aware and spread awareness whenever we can.
All in all, take care of your body, mind and soul. Educate yourself and your loved ones of the dangers of mental illness, spread love and kindness wherever and whenever you can, and uplift those who need a helping hand.
Note: If you or someone you know is facing difficulties, NIMH – Angoda consists of a mental health hotline for the public of Sri Lanka. The toll free number ‘1926’ (used to commemorate the year of establishment of NIMH) can be used to receive mental health assistance from the doctors at NIMH.
You can also contact CCC line on ‘1333’ or Sumithrayo on 011 2 696 666.