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BALM to train community mental health workers in Sri Lanka

The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM) has joined hands with the Mental Health in Human Rights-Federation Global Initiative in Psychiatry (MHHR-FGIP) and the Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka to train 50 community mental health workers from the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.

The Diploma in Community Mental Health Program, a flagship program of BALM, aims to address availability and access to mental health care as well as empower community level workers to act as a bridge between the healthcare services available and the public.

“Our training program has been conceived for the grassroot level and is very hands-on and practical. It is also important that we contextualise the program for the country we are working with and inputs from Sri Lanka have been added to make the program more comprehensive and holistic,” said Madhuri Menon, dean, BALM.

Dr Ganesan Mahesan, psychiatrist, National Institute of Mental Health, Sri Lanka, said they assisted the healthcare systems there with ensuring access at the community level, creating awareness and tracing patients among many other responsibilities.

“Through this capacity building, we want them to upgrade their knowledge and have a bigger influence on the community,” he said. All 50 workers taking the program from July 10 are women and many are from marginalised sections of society.

Over the course of the program, the community health workers will be given awareness about how to identify and work with vulnerable groups as well as high-risk groups. “All the aspects we aim to cover will focus on promotion of mental health awareness, prevention as well as rehabilitation. There will be extensive fieldwork involved and the participants will work with fieldwork supervisors for guidance,” explained K.S. Ramesh, assistant professor, BALM and co-lead, Centre for Social Needs and Livelihood at BALM.

In the past, BALM has trained around 200 persons from Tamil Nadu who have gone on to become community mental health facilitators. This tie-up is their first collaboration in working with community mental health workers from outside the country.

Stressing the need to focus on the convergence of health and social realities, Dr. Lakshmi Ravikanth, co-dean, The BALM, said that it was important to consider the concerns faced by the marginalised sections of the population in any discussion regarding mental health.

“The treatment gap that prevails in low and middle income group countries due to the lack of accessibility, affordability and availability needs to be addressed. As the world is fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several mental health issues that are emerging. Equipping and empowering community mental health workers, who are the frontrunners involved in crisis response, is essential,” she said.

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