With last month being dedicated to raising awareness to mental health, Chokolaate along with The Ohana Project organized ‘Behind The Mask’ at the Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention Center (SLECC). ‘Behind The Mask’ took the form of a number of interactive discussions, and an Open Mic Night as well. Introduction to Mental Health and Mental [...]


Spreading some love and awareness on mental health


A panel discussion moderated by Nivendra Uduman – Counselling Psychiatrist, included Shanuki De Alwis, Vishane Herath and Kumudini David. Pix courtesy Kevin Michael/Chokolaate

With last month being dedicated to raising awareness to mental health, Chokolaate along with The Ohana Project organized ‘Behind The Mask’ at the Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention Center (SLECC). ‘Behind The Mask’ took the form of a number of interactive discussions, and an Open Mic Night as well.

Introduction to Mental Health and Mental Health Awareness

Carried out by two members of The Ohana Project, the session dealt with identifying what mental health is and how best to raise awareness about it. While depression can affect anyone at any age, early detection is vital. If left unaddressed, the mental health of an individual can spiral out of control leading to depressive disorders and sometimes suicide.

The first step is to acknowledge that “it’s okay to not be okay.” With that begins a journey of self-actualization and healing. Talking to a close relative, friend or loved one is always recommended rather than bottling up your emotions and feelings. If you feel that that is not enough, you can seek help from professional counsellors and therapists.

The medical aspect of mental health

While counseling and therapy may work for some, for others, it might not be enough. Dr. M. Ganeshan – Psychiatrist and a member of the Ministry of Health shared that there is nothing wrong in seeking help through medication. It is important however, to stick to the prescribed medication and follow it as recommended.

In addition, Dr. Ganeshan also shared that medication alone will not help cure depression or any other illness. It is up to individuals to make up their mind, he says adding that it is only they who can come to terms that they have an illness and that they are taking the required medication to treat it. After all, a mental illness is just like a physical illness. As such, it will take time to recover from it, but you can recover from it, he said.

Representative from CareerMe

Spreading love through music

During the proceedings, musical group Clefolution, took to the stage to do what they do best: sing their hearts out. They weren’t alone though. The audience too had their part to play (or sing) in the songs that were performed.

The result? A massive gathering of people who were not afraid to sing out loud and tap their feet to the rhythm. It also helped break the ice between the attendees with  hearty smiles all around.

Sharing is caring

Carrying forward the idea of raising awareness for mental health, a panel discussion took place. Moderated by Nivendra Uduman – Counselling Psychiatrist, the panel comprised Shanuki De Alwis, Vishane Herath and Kumudini David.
Shanuki shared her experience about how she found refuge in theatre and acting. Throwing herself entirely into making sure that she was always busy. But it wasn’t always that easy, she tells attendees. There were times when she was weak, but she mustered up her strength and ploughed through.

Ahrany Balasingham at the discussions

Vishane shared with the audience the trials and tribulations of being a transgender in a society such as Sri Lanka. He shared that from his younger days, he felt that he was a male trapped in a female’s body. His parents did not take lightly to what Vishane had to say, often condoning him and saying that it was all just in his head. A Human Rights activist, Vishane urged the audience to speak out for what they believe in, no matter how difficult it is.

Last, but, by no means the least, Kumudini David shared her life story as well. A victim of child abuse, Kumudini shared that abuse is one of the most difficult and scarring experiences that a child can go through. Most often, it is done by someone close to the child, making it an even frightening. Kumudini shared that even though this left her scarred, she did not let it get her down. In fact, she has made it one of her life goals to help children and in fact anyone else who has gone through abuse or social stigmas.

Adding to Kumudini’s views were representatives from LEADS who spoke about childhood abuse and mental health. The simple act of punishing a child for doing something wrong or belittling them when they fail to do something can go a long way and even affect the development of their thinking process as well.

They shared that childhood abuse can lead to a number of issues later on in an individual’s life and shared how people can help those who have been victimized. Rather than ostracize them from society, the message was that it is up to each one of us  to heal their broken hearts and show them that there are people who love them.

Abuse at the workplace is equally important

While a majority of the sessions dealt with early identification of mental health, the folks from CareerMe shared that mental health in the workplace is equally important as well.
While we may not notice it, stress at the workplace due to tight deadlines or unfair senior management can put a severe strain on a person’s wellbeing.Improper working conditions, unmanageable workloads and even bullying or harassment at the workplace (either sexual, verbal or physical) can all lead to immense stress. This in turn, if not handled properly, could even lead to suicide.

Open mic night to raise awareness of mental health

Following the sessions at Behind the Mask, the latter part of the day’s proceedings took place. This was of course the Open Mic Night. The performances consisted of a number of bands and individual singers. It wasn’t just about singing though.

Poetry also had its share of the spotlight with a talented poets taking to the stage to talk about their emotions and lives in a gripping and heart touching manner. To cap it all, there was also a duo of beatboxers whose beats certainly dropped and almost brought the roof down.

Wrapping things up

Remembering those victims of the Easter Sunday Attacks was also a key part of Behind the Mask. With candles being lit in honour of those who lost their lives and families, the vote of thanks was given. Overall, Behind The Mask was carried out exceptionally well. It gave everyone attending a chance to speak out and have their voices heard. We commend the efforts of all those involved and wish them all the best in their future endeavours.






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