Five-year plan to improve mental health

Published: 22 October 2015 at 11:50

Sri Lanka

Anglia Ruskin wins its first ever US Federal grant to carry out project in northern Sri Lanka

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A five-year study to attempt to improve the mental health of people forced from their homes by war is being carried out in Sri Lanka.

The research will explore the needs of communities in post-conflict regions and will focus on the northern province of Sri Lanka. Here, many people were forced to flee from their homes during a long and bitter civil war caused by ethnic tensions, which claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people.

Following the end of the fighting in May 2009, many of those displaced have been returning to the conflict-scarred region and many have complex mental health needs which are struggling to be met, in many cases alongside physical injuries. Many people who escaped from war-ravaged areas were also affected by the 2004 tsunami that devastated the region.

Dr Chesmal Siriwardhana, Senior Lecturer in Public Health at Anglia Ruskin University, will work with colleagues in the UK and Sri Lanka to survey people in primary care facilities in the region to identify specific needs. The team will then use the World Health Organisation (WHO) Mental Health Gap Action Programme, adapted to ensure it is relevant to the local culture, to train healthcare workers.

They will also investigate the real cost of training, to account for factors such as travel to nearest equipped facility and time off work. This information will be used to calculate the cost to the Government of providing ongoing training to the region’s health workers.

The project follows up a pilot study last year carried out by Dr Siriwardhana, examining the need for evidence-based research.

It is the first time Anglia Ruskin University has received a research grant from the United States Federal Government. The total funding for the study is projected to be about $500,000 across five years.

Dr Siriwardhana said:

“The plight of refugees in Europe has been making the headlines in recent weeks and the people of northern Sri Lanka were also forced to flee their homes during a conflict spanning more than 25 years. This kind of forced displacement places immense strain on people’s mental health, time doesn’t necessarily heal people who haven’t benefited from psychological support.

“Unfortunately in this particular region, lack of resources is a big issue and there is also a lack of understanding amongst policy makers about mental health. Although war is over for these people, the mental scars have not healed.

“We want to ensure these people returning to the region have access to the care they deserve. It is also an opportunity to assess the WHO programme as it will be the first time this method has been used in a post-conflict setting.”

The project is being funded by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and a partnership has already been established with the University of Jaffna, situated in the northern province of Sri Lanka.

The total cost for the first year of the project is $166,256 with 77% ($128,225) of the total cost of the project financed with United States Federal money and 23% ($38,040) financed with non-governmental money.