“From the time I was 10 years old, chronic headache disturbed my sleep, mood vitality, and concentration,” shares mental health researcher and activist Jagannath Lamichhane, 26, while sipping orange juice. After eight years of hopeless feelings of isolation and acute suffering, he was finally diagnosed with chronic depression.
“I was always clasped by the fear of social exclusion and felt apologetic for my condition although it wasn’t my fault,” he remembers.
Further on for a decade, he explored all avenues of healing. From allopathic remedies to spirituality, he personally investigated to overcome his depression, and eventually managed to succeed. However, the success did not call for celebrations for the stigma of being mentally ill haunted him, making daily life a dysfunctional familiarity at best.
Overcome with this, he decided to use his energy to mainstream mental health issues in Nepal.
“Mental health in Nepal has a distinct social component to it for social stigma attached to mentally ill people is a social license to unfairly treat a minority group,” he points out. “If a person suffering from a mental health problem visits a hospital like people with other health problems, his or her dignity, social values, working environment and other social opportunities are at stake,” he states the obvious. “This makes it difficult to maintain a healthy level of confidence for the mentally ill, the ones who are recovering or the ones who have already recovered,” he says.
“There is a lack of institutions, institutional support, unity of the actors involved in the issues and the right public perception for mental health advocacy,” he adds. Initially, it was very hard to get people to even listen to him. “The few times that I managed to get them to listen to the troubles of the mentally ill, they didn’t take me seriously,” he smirks surprisingly with a self-deprecating yet confident humor.
Therefore, in 2007, he founded the first ever organization dedicated to the advocacy of mental health issues: Nepal Mental Health Foundation (NMHF). It organized a “Mental Health Lecture Series” on different topics by bringing together various speakers from clinical and non-clinical professions. More than 60 people attended this program, and this sought to augment this fledgling issue as a social one as well.
“I had family support, and hence I’ve been able to raise this issue in the public domain. But there are millions, neither able to understand nor voice their covert pains for the fear of being ostracized,” says the young campaigner. The NMHF seeks to deal with the issue at the social level, and provides counseling to whole families when one of their members faces any psychological problems, thus aiming to reduce stigmas at the family level first.
Two years into working for the mainstreaming of the mentally ill, Lamichhane has contributed some three dozen commentaries on the issue in the leading national dailies circulated throughout Nepal. His fortnightly columns are the first ever regular pieces written on mental health issues in Asia.
“The media has a powerful role to play in the public understanding of mental health,” he stipulates. He believes that Nepal has produced the first generation of 12-14 journalists propagating this agenda in the mainstream media.
Furthermore, he has mapped Nepal on the Movement for the Global Mental Health that seeks to improve services for people with mental disorders worldwide. With 700 global members, they seek to draw the attention of global stakeholders for scaling up of treatments for mental disorders, for the human rights of those affected to be protected, and for more research in low and middle income countries that houses 80% of the mentally ill.
On September 2, 2009, Lamichhane spoke as a panelist on the “Strategies for the Future” meet for the promulgation of global mental wellbeing at the first ever Global Mental Health Summit held in Athens. This summit was organized to brainstorm ways for augmenting mental health in low income countries.
At 450-million strong, the mentally ill constitute 80% of the total disabled population in the world. “One out of every four families has at least one mentally ill member,” he informs.
In Nepal, the trend is doubly disheartening. While the services available are only clinical in nature, only 0.08% of the national budget has been allocated for mental health. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in Nepal, a family of one mentally ill has to spend around 25,000 Nepali Rupees (US$320) per year as direct services costs. While “80% of the mental disorders are preventable and treatable, less than 10% of the people get access to care in Nepal,” he points out.
“Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings,” as the Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said. Jagannath Lamichhane’s work seems to be guided by similar principles. He is the first person to raise a supposedly tabooed issue, and take it to the national and international levels.
“It’s a covert pain,” concludes Jagannath, “and you have no wound to show for it.”
there is a wonderful organization up in jumla. it´s called ´4S´ - look them up. i think you could contribute tremendously to each other´s efforts!
sir,i was really i really appreciate your approach.I am a medical student now in india and i would like to be in touch with you and even work together...Can you pls give mer your email id?You can mail me at email@example.com...