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Sri Lanka

BasicNeeds Sri Lanka

Children, parents and teachers engaging in an open dialogue

Mental health in Sri Lanka    

Sri Lanka’s health sector has an excellent reputation, but lags behind in one crucial area of service provision – that of mental health.  Mental health in Sri Lanka has long been a cause for concern, with health statistics revealing high rates of depression, alcoholism, substance abuse and suicides. This situation was further exacerbated by the severe emotional and psychological damage caused by three decades of violent ethnic conflict, which came to an end in 2009, and the unprecedented tsunami of 2004.

The Ministry of Health has found it difficult to respond adequately to the enormous extent of the problem. A key challenge that the country faces is the lack of trained staff even for basic diagnosis and referrals related to mental health. This situation is most evident in the North and East of the country, which experienced the worst of the war.  People’s recovery is further impeded because they also have to deal with the destruction of infrastructure and environments, the loss of livelihoods, the breakdown of social structures and the disintegration of community support systems.

Our Work

We began operation in Sri Lanka in 2003 and since then over 47,000 people with mental illness or epilepsy, their carers and family members have been through our programme.

Our holistic mental health and development services are delivered through:

BasicNeeds Sri Lanka

BasicNeeds Sri Lanka has been in operation since 2003, working closely with the government health sector and local partners, to introduce the BasicNeeds Model. For the past eight years the programme has focused its work on the war-affected Eastern Province.

Our on-going and highly successful project ‘Promoting Children’s Mental Health in the Batticaloa District is located in a space that is crucial to the child: the school environment. This work is carried out in partnership with ESCO, the Eastern Self Reliant Community Awakening Organization of Batticaloa, and funded by the British Asian Trust. The project has established 26 Children’s Clubs in schools and villages to meet the need for support in coping with the consequences of conflict and natural disasters, compounded by poverty.

The main focus of the Children’s Clubs is to develop children’s mental resilience and build their self-confidence so they can learn better at school. These clubs provide space for children to relax, be with others, play, make friends, and improve their ability to face challenges. A programme of training for the children to enable them to run the Clubs themselves gives them skills such as handling money, keeping minutes and records and providing leadership.  Club leaders are first trained by professionals and then cascade the knowledge down among the other children, training each other. Children learn about child rights and well-being, how to negotiate their rights with adults, how to recognise and deal with mental health problems, how to manage conflict and anger, and how to support each other and solve problems.

Equally crucial to the project’s success has been the training of teachers, head teachers, parents and government education officials. They learn how to recognise signs of unhappiness, under performance and mental stress in children and how best to support them at home or in a child-friendly way at school.


1. To date 26 Children’s Clubs have been established and are run by children themselves, the majority based in schools in very remote hard-to-reach locations.
2. As a result of this project, 528 children, 330 teachers, 216 parents and 59 government officials have been trained.
3. The children have gained self-confidence and can connect with society (including their parents and teachers) positively. They have taken on responsibilities as leaders, show concern for other children, for their communities and even for their wider society.
4. School drop outs have greatly reduced; teachers are using more child-friendly methods; government officials are aware of their responsibilities towards children’s well-being; and parents (mothers, especially) are very supportive of the Children’s Clubs and their activities.
5. Children’s Club members have also developed the skills to network and advocate and are now representative members of local level government structures (such as Village Development Committees and mothers’ groups). This embeds their role in influencing decisions affecting them, and makes the changes sustainable.

For further information on the impact of Children’s Clubs in Sri Lanka, click here

Our impact to date

As of December 2015, 47,047 people including those affected by mental illnesses, their carers and family members have been supported through our programme in Sri Lanka.

Contact information

Email: [email protected]

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