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From Darkness to Light : Combating Depression in Sri Lanka

depression

Depression is one of those obvious parts of SL society we have chosen to ignore. Discover what one of our own social entrepreneurs is doing to create change.

It is a word which for many of us has lost all flavour. Very much like the word “literally”, we use words such as “depressed” “depression” “depressing” with no appreciation of the weight of those words. Most of us would concur that at some point of our lives we have felt depressed. Many would even suggest life itself is, well, rather depressing! After all… isn’t it just another transitory mood such as “happy” “anger” “jealousy” “boredom”? Isn’t it “normal” to feel depressed?

Depression is not transitory. It is not a fleeting state of mind which can be vanquished by a wild night out or the latest expensive gadget.  Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. Victims of depression are like victims of cancer or leukemia; the only real distinguishing factor is the former suffers from a mental illness and the later from a physical.

Unfortunately, victims of depression are often not given the same level of care, empathy or sympathy as those suffering from a long-term physical sickness. In Sri Lanka and other parts of the world, there is a stigmatization against victims of depression and people with mental illnesses in general. Those suffering from depression are often not looked upon as victims, deserving of attention and guidance but as “weak” people unable to cope with the harshness of reality. Not only do we refuse to acknowledge they suffer from a legitimate illness but by doing so we deny them any channel or mode of recovery.

But why is this problem deserving of our attention? The Island has reported that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression will be the second most important medical disease worldwide by the year 2020. According to the WHO in 2006 almost 400,000 Sri Lankans experienced a serious mental disorder. In some areas depression was reported as high as a quarter of the population. Suicide rates in Sri Lanka are among the highest in the world according to a WHO report in 2008 (conservative estimate: 24 per 100,000).
It is these dire problems surrounding the victims of depression which the Sri Lankan charity organization “From Darkness to Light” aims to tackle. “From Darkness to Light”, started by founder Pavani Muthumala, in honour of her late father Mr. Wasantha Muthumala, hopes to shine attention to the topic of depression and how those suffering from depression should be given a supportive framework instead of being stigmatized.

Here is an exclusive interview with the founder of the charity organization “From Darkness to Light” Pavani Muthumala:

Gayanthi Hapuarachchi: What was your inspiration to start your charity?                             Pavani Muthumala: My father was a person suffering from depression and he committed suicide to end his suffering. That is what made me think of starting something for people with depression and to make them feel they are not alone. In SL mental illnesses are not really recognized. Most of the people who came to his funeral didn’t even know about a disorder called depression. I couldn’t save my father but I want to save at least ten lives.

GH: What was the inspiration behind your charity name “From Darkness to Light”?                PM: In our society normally people with mental illnesses are stigmatized. They are often known as being “possessed”.  Our charity name “From Darkness to Light” means bringing that unspoken taboo subject to the light and telling people that it is not something abnormal or extraordinary. It is something like cancer – the only difference is this is not physical.

GH: What has your charity done so far?
PM: We started this very recently so we have done only one seminar at RI but the next seminar will be held on the 11th of January at ACBT.

GH: What is the future plan for From Darkness to Light?
PM: In the future we are hoping to financially support the poor people suffering from depression who are unable to buy medicine as depression is a costly disorder. Furthermore, we are hoping to conduct seminars in universities and schools.

GH: How can people contribute to your charity? (E.g. donations, through volunteer work, raising awareness.)
PM: They could help us by donating money when we open up a bank account in my father’s name to help poor people. Also if volunteers can get permission from their workplaces, universities and schools for us to conduct seminars it would be great.

GH: Are there any people who you helped you make your charity a reality?
PM: Of course! First of all, my mother and my sister who were there for me all the time, my cousin brother Thilina who gave me the idea of doing something to raise awareness and last but not least my friends and my cousins who supported me from day one.

GH: Do you have any personal message for those suffering from depression? Or any message for those people whose loved ones suffer from depression?
PM: Depression is not something to be scared of or afraid of. It is a sickness like fever, its normal. Whenever you feel down or you feel like ending your life… just think about the best things in life that are yet to be achieved. Keep your hand near your heart and feel that beat. Living is not going to be easy for any of us. We gotta fight. Everyone is a warrior. Don’t let depression control your life you take control of it and after all every life is worth living.
…and to the loved ones who is close to a person suffering depression. They might get aggressive. They might have moods. Whatever it is, just cope with it and be very helpful. Always show them that you are there. Always be with them when they need you.

Authors Note:

We all talk about instigating change, some of us (such as myself) write about it but  very few actually turn words into actions in order to instigate change. I attended the lecture conducted by “From Darkness to Light” at the Royal Institute of Colombo in December. I listened to the seminar by  Mr. Ranjith kumar who is a consultant and a counsellor  and I took part in the forum theatre (which was designed to demonstrate how to prevent mistreatment of those suffering from depression in real life situations) Therefore I can honestly say this is a truly worthy cause and I hope readers out there will be motivated to help this charity spread its message.

This post is dedicated to Pavani’s father Mr. Wasantha Muthumala  and all those victims lost to depression. I would also like to dedicate this post to my father who turned 50 this week. He is not a victim of depression but he is one of the strongest human beings I have ever seen and I hope one day I can do something inspirational and courageous in his honour as Pavani has done for her own.

Thank you so much Pavani for allowing me to interview you. I wish you and your charity all the best.

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