National Institute of Mental Health

Angoda, Sri Lanka

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Home Mental Health in the News Mental Health in the News The Sunday Times - October 18, 2015

The Sunday Times - October 18, 2015

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New Bill on mental health will give patients more access to treatment islandwide

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Patients with acute mental illnesses (involuntary patients) will be entitled to seek treatment from all government hospitals including base and teaching hospitals nearest to them, according to a new Mental Health Bill that has been proposed.
The draft bill is pending approval by the Justice Ministry.

Health Ministry Mental Health Director Dr. Rasanjali Hettiarachchi told the Sunday Times that the bill would help involuntary patients seek treatment from their nearest hospitals in contrast to the existing Act where treatment was accessible only at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Angoda.

“This has caused immense problems for families who have acutely mentally sick family members. These patients have to be transported from all corners of the country to Angoda. However with the new Bill, involuntary patients who include those who could do self-harm or harm to family members or society can be admitted to district hospitals, base hospitals or teaching hospitals that have the facility.

Dr. Hettiarachchi said there were 20 psychiatric wards around the country and that plans are underway to upgrade the facilities in these wards. She said there were around 90 consultant psychiatrists, 200 mental health medical officers, 50 nurses and 55 psychosocial nurses, to cater to the patients.

Dr. Hettiarachchi said the Ministry also conducts awareness programmes to educate people about mental sickness and the importance of recognising symptoms and seeking treatment early. “Most people are not aware they have a mental problem and they ignore the symptoms until the sickness gets worse,” she said.

She said the awareness programmes include poster campaigns in hospitals and the distribution of leaflets to patients who come to hospitals and MOH offices. “The message is that mental illness is treatable and the need is to identify it early,” she added.College of Psychiatrist president and consultant at the Colombo South Hospital, Kalubowila, Dr. Samudra Kattiarachchi said around 100 patients visit the psychiatric clinic daily and the new bill was the need of the hour.

She said that the antiquated bill introduced in 1872 by the British only allowed voluntary patients to seek treatment outside the NIMH. All involuntary patients had to be brought to the Mental Hospital in Angoda. She said although the new bill was not 100% fool proof at least it was a step in the right direction. “The important thing is that the patients’ rights and their dignity have been considered,” she added.

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