Even though it seems like I’ve just been gallivanting around for the last couple months, I have actually been doing some work too. While it’s a slow go, you quickly learn to celebrate even the smallest of successes, so as to avoid requiring mental health services yourself.
At first, my goal was just not getting lost on the way to work. Next, it was making sure I didn’t stink. Like I said, baby steps.
After four months in my placement, my list of accomplishments is embarrassingly small. I’ve helped generate some media interest in a couple of events at the hospital, we’ve challenged one instance of unethical suicide reporting, I’ve helped deliver one training for mental health professionals and one for journalists, I’ve attempted to update the NIMH website and I’m attempting to print a newsletter at the hospital, which I drafted three months ago and might get to the printer this week – luckily it’s not breaking news.
While I know that list doesn’t look that bad, it’s only a drop in the bucket of what’s needed to actually make any sort of a dint in the stigma that exists. All I can do is keep chipping away and hopefully momentum will start to build.
Maybe the Sunday Observer article that appeared this week will be a spark. While the language to describe people with mental illness isn’t perfect, the overall message is a positive one and to actually have voices and faces of patients in the article may be a first in Sri Lanka.
All of this from a simple letter I sent to editors in the country requesting a chance to talk with them about mental health. While that letter found its way to the garbage of most newsrooms, it did generate a few calls and a couple of positive articles. While small, it’s those moments that have kept me going and will keep me going until the end of my placement.
Oh, and the fact that I didn’t get lost today and my smell is neutral – at worst.
If you’re interested in how the Sri Lanka media has been covering mental health issues since I’ve been here, I’ve been archiving the English articles on the NIMH website. The Sinhalese and Tamil coverage will be added eventually, I just need to find my successor – someone that speaks and writes in all three languages, likes to write and is comforable talking with the media. No small task.
Wish me luck.