Depression and development
Sri Lanka's statistics
on the fast-spreading worldwide mental disability of depression
are worrying and call for immediate remedial action. A front
page news report by us yesterday said that one percent of the
local population suffers from serious depression, while some ten
percent are afflicted with minor depression. The inference that
should be drawn is that in addition to the considerable
mentally-afflicted persons in our Mental Hospitals, there is
around ten percent potentially psychotic persons in Sri Lanka at
any given time.
It is difficult to ascertain whether Sri Lanka has been
registering a steep increase in the incidence of mental
disorders over the years, on account of the unavailability of
relevant statistics for quick reference, but we would do well
not to lose sight of the fact that around 20 years ago, Sri
Lanka registered the highest daily suicide toll globally.
Accordingly, it should not come as a surprise if mental disease
is widespread locally.
Sri Lankans are unusually prone to emotional disorders and
this is the message that must be received and pondered upon as
we go about our chores in these post-conflict times.
On a cursory assessment of current societal developments it
could be said that conciliatory attitudes need to be inbred in
local culture if we are to have less persons who are vulnerable
to emotional disorders.
We do not seem to have a substantial substratum of such
values, despite this country laying claim to having within its
fold the world's greatest religions. Certainly, formal religion
is flourishing in Sri Lanka, but this does not necessarily
translate into spiritual development, which is one of the best
guarantees against emotional disorders.
The state has chosen to enter into a process of
reconciliation with those who, at one time, took up arms against
it and this approach seems to be working fine with one-time LTTE
cadres who do not stand accused of serious offences, but the
same could not be said of all the multifarious social and
political forces in our midst.
For instance, there is the ongoing strike by university Dons,
which is reportedly affecting well over 300,000 local families,
since an undergraduate languishing at home in a state of
despair, as a result of the closure of universities, affects the
morale of an entire family and drives them too into great
distress of mind.
We do not see why reconciliation and a process of dialogue
cannot be allowed to flourish between the parties to this
prolonged strike because no conflict should be seen as beyond
resolution, provided a spirit of understanding prevails.
Accordingly, it is of the first importance that a culture of
reconciliation and understanding is made to prosper locally. In
fact, such a spirit is closely bound-up with democratic
development, although this link is not immediately noticeable.
Thus far, paeans have been sung to local democracy by
particularly our political and social elite, but it is not
clearly understood that democracy cannot be reduced to the mere
exercise of the franchise by the people. Rather, it is a sign of
democratic maturity or development that parties and forces in a
polity give priority to dialogue and consensuality as the means
of resolving disputes among them. If this is not happening, we
could not be said to be in the possession of democratic maturity
Politics and social development cannot be compartmentalized.
Constructive politics, conducted in a spirit of reconciliation,
with the national interest in mind, would bring about social
peace, which in turn would help in creating citizens of
emotional stability. Thus, democratic maturity and mental health
are closely intertwined and should be seen as having a close
bearing on each other.
We are not being idealistic by saying this. In the countries
with flourishing democracies, the social good is placed above
short-term political gain by political actors. In such
societies, reconciliation is seen as the vital cement that binds
the polity and holds it together. We urge our political actors
to think on these things and do what is needed to advance the
cause of social wholeness and emotional stability.