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Richmond to Guide Sri Lankan Family Project

Media Release
28 January 2005

Richmond to Guide Sri Lankan Family Project

Richmond Fellowship, the community-based mental health provider, will seek funding to support a new family and community initiative for tsunami victims in Sri Lanka.

The decision follows a 10-day tour of coastal Sri Lanka by the head of Richmond’s Wellington and Wairarapa services, Maurice Dodson, and senior psychologist Mark Rosario, to identify long term mental health needs and opportunities to provide expertise.

Richmond Fellowship’s chief executive, Dr Gerry Walmisley, says Sri Lankan officials have welcomed the offer to expand the work of Richmond Fellowship Lanka (RFL), a small charitable operation running two group homes just outside Colombo.

“The reconnaissance carried out by our team has provided new and revealing information about the degree of psychological impact and several emerging problems, particularly with alcohol abuse and domestic violence.

“We have recommended that RFL establishes a pilot programme for strengthening families and communities in Seenigama, in the district of Galle, an area that has been hit hard.” The proposal will provide for:

- A safe house for women experiencing domestic violence.

- A case manager for mental health clients and a second case manager for alcohol and drug support services, working under a local operations director.

- A health promotion budget to deal with the stigma of mental illness, domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse.

A separate proposal for psychosocial development will also be made, on RFL’s behalf.

“This tragedy has claimed the lives of more women and children then men, and many men are unable to cope with their grief,” says Dr Walmisley. “The abuse of illicit substances and alcohol, including potent home brew, is already widespread.

“Our role is likely to be in providing training for counselors and in supervising the development of an expanded RFL team, rather than delivering services on their behalf. The Sri Lankan authorities have made it clear that they want the local organisation to retain control of the project, and we respect that view entirely.

“Sri Lanka already has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and the authorities fear it will worsen under the pressure of continuing emotional and economic hardship. Around 5-10 per cent of the population is affected by a mental illness and these people will be more susceptible to the development of stress disorders. Mental professionals and training facilities are scarce, with fewer than 40 resident psychiatrists and around 200 psychologists for a population of 18.5million.

“We intend to make a long term commitment to this project, which is concerned with the well being of people throughout the reconstruction phase and far beyond. With our international experience, through the delivery of, for example, the Cook Island mental health service, we are well placed to respond to the complex needs of nation with limited resources of its own.”

About Richmond Fellowship

Richmond Fellowship is a major provider of community health and support services throughout New Zealand. Richmond has developed specialist services for a range of purchasers including the Ministry of Health, Community & Public Health, Child Youth and Family Service, Corrections and District Health Boards. Service provision includes programmes for people with psychiatric or psychological disabilities, primary health services, respite and emergency support, consumer based drop-in services, specialist youth programmes, dual diagnosis services (including intellectual disability/mental illness), alcohol and other drug services and intensive support for people with the most complex needs.

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