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No longer the mental asylum it used to be
NIMH – a resurrected transformation dedicated to mental patients

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at Angoda is now a resurrected transformation dedicated to those with mental disorders — curing and helping assimilate these people to weld with normal human beings, and in time become contributory citizens and earning their keep. Quite like most of us.

This was its transformation which was observed last week by the press. There was a strong NGO presence, and more importantly the Ministry of Health.

The NIMH, the metaphor used to transcend the mental asylum to what it is today.

Pan out of what we saw last week to what it was, perhaps, five or ten years ago. Dr. Jayan Mendis presented media pictures of the asylum.

Irrespective of what he said last week, I had the personal misfortune to visit this institution when it was styled an asylum. The mental asylum in Angoda was the most debilitating, ghastly and horrifying place this country was ashamed to acknowledge. Humans were treated worse than sub human.

That was then. What we observed now was complete transformation which completely lived up to its present image "Institute’, inciting positive observation to its service ; more importantly that it was now dispersing knowledge and simultaneous care to assist those belonging to this Institute.

Listening to Consultant Psychiatrist, National Institute of Mental Health, Angoda, Dr. Pushpa Ranasinghe, introducing the programme I was apprehensive whatever could be said was complete eyewash. As the program unfolded however, it was abundantly clear that something tangible and effective would unfold. It did.

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Ganeshan said stress factors, socio – economic factors, lead to mental disorders and caused the condition collectively styled mental health.

The concept of the new direction at Angoda, was promotion for opportunity for self-determination and contribution to the community. Not in isolated conclaves but assimilate to be a useful member of social groupings. He said what the Institute is now focusing on was entering the product market for personal standing and achievement.

Dr. Mendis outlined the appalling conditions that existed before his tenure, and subsequent progress made in-house to promote personal productivity in whatever skill they chose or were talented to do.

There are now approximately 1,000 known mental patients in Angoda, and Mulleriyawa. Usually stigmatized. Stemming from this debilitating influence, Vipula who also addressed the media said the aim of the institute now is to engage in re-habilitation meaningfully. That being to impart skills training and social activities.

An overview of time spent at the NIMH was that they are now prepared to move to diametrically different attitudes and promote identified aptitudes to enter commercial activity. That too to produce and sell their products.

The corporate community was represented, so too Business for Peace Alliance (BPA). The BPA influx was its promotion for Institute assimilation through its saleable products, and placing treated persons to be effective in an atmosphere of normal living and occupational function.

Chairman BPA Suresh de Mel said although this is its focus there is much to be done to prevent isolation which may not be mentally acceptable to those functioning in a normal situation. It would need specialized training to be effective in such future situations.

At a lively, yet short workshop, Secretary General BPA, Manique Mendis put together deliberations which highlighted these thoughts.

Strong NGO presence particularly PANOS, and VSO have helped move the NIMH to achieve their goals in more positive areas.

The media was also requested to inspect work already completed, which were observed to be of high standard and could be marketed in a competitive atmosphere.

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