A Consumer Speaks Out

[Remarks by a mental health consumer at a conference organized by Sahanaya, the family organization in Columbo, Sri Lanka]

Mental illnesses are a curse upon human kind. Just as only the blind know what it is to live in perpetual darkness, only those with mental disorders truly understand the pain, the stigma, the frustration, rejection, the feeling of utter loss, the loneliness and sadness that mental illness brings.

Having said that, I have to admit that my illness has taught me a lot: It has taught me about life, about people, about how people reject anything they don't understand, it has taught me to accept things that cannot be changed, it has taught me to respect people who respect me in return, it has taught me to have empathy with all beings who suffer. But most of all, my illness taught me the value of drawing strength from within me.

Sri Lanka is a developing country. So, naturally, the amount of resources that the Government can set aside for mental health is limited. Fortunately for us, [some] people had the vision and courage to do their own thing. Today we commemorate 20 years of such a vision put into reality.

I am completely satisfied with the programmes offered at Sahanaya. Perhaps the future Sahanaya will have a programme for our politicians. Now, I am not saying that our politicians should visit Sahanaya because they are all mentally ill! ... But seriously, if our policy makers were more aware of the reality of mental disorders, I am sure they would do more - even with the limited resources they have at their disposal.

If one person could have had the vision, that would ultimately give birth to a haven for those who have mental disorders, if one person could have seen through 20 years of continued operation of that haven, if one person could have changed such a lot in so many lives, just imagine, ladies and gentlemen, what a lot the 250 of us gathered here today can achieve.

I am sure you have learned many things here today, you have relearned many things today, you have unlearned many things today, but remember, as you go home or to your hotels, together with the knowledge you'll be taking the responsibility, the responsibility to take action. It may be just sharing something you learned today with another, it might be giving employment to someone whose mental disorder is under control, it might be trying to understand a person who is employed with you and has a mental disorder and is just trying to hang on, it might be helping with funds for the new Resource Centre. Whatever you do, I wish you all the very best from the very bottom of my heart. And don't forget we will be right behind you - at all times.