Hi, and welcome to #TalkbackTuesday. This week’s interview is with Mr. Nivendra Uduman. See his interview below.
Talkback Tuesday is a feature for and about everyday people. It is always inspirational to look into the life of another person, and realize it is just as complex and large and confusing as your own.
1. For the readers, who are you, what do you do, and what is your current side project?
I am a community-oriented person who likes to intersperse passion with service. I am a counselling psychologist by profession and I work actively in the field of mental health in Sri Lanka.
I’m also the founder of Letter Earthlings- where we spread love and hope around the world through handwritten letters. I also am engaged in educating communities here in first aid and basic emergency response.
2. Tell me more about your Letter Earthlings initiative. Why do you think this form of positive communication is relevant in today’s world?
We currently live in a world where connection between human beings is becoming rather scarce. Letter Earthlings is a way of fostering connection and love in our communities.
The act of letter writing is a great way to help people find hope.
[It works by] engaging people in letter writing to share some of their world with someone they most likely wouldn’t know. That someone could be miles away. But, the act of writing a letter as a form of showing love and support is a great way to help people find hope in their lives.
I believe that the writers themselves also find hope in connecting with another human heart.
3. What is it like being a counselling psychologist? What is your opinion of the general public’s understanding of mental health and mental illness?
It’s a very enriching profession to be in. You grow alongside the people you help on a daily basis and you begin to see your own vulnerability as a form of nourishment. It’s a sacred journey.
The understanding and awareness people have about mental illness and mental health in general has certainly improved over the past few years in Sri Lanka, mostly due to intensive awareness raising initiatives carried out by both the public and private sectors. However, there still is a crippling stigma associated with mental health problems and a great deal of people have difficulties accessing support.
There are also certain cultural beliefs that play a role in how mental illness is perceived. There are still very strong beliefs about how actions in one’s previous birth could cause mental illness in their present birth. People also consider the impact of planetary movements and horoscope interpretations on one’s mental health.
It’s getting better, but there is still a great deal of work for us to do together as a country. This responsibility should not be left only to mental health professionals. It’s a cause for everyone and it’s everyone’s fight.
4. If you could dispel three myths about mental health, what would they be and why?
1. “You can just snap out of it” – Well, you can’t, because people do not get ill by choice. It’s often an interaction between the environment and hereditary factors. So, just like you would rest and recuperate when you experience physical illness, mental illness can be treated with both medication and psychotherapy/counselling. There are no quick fixes.
2. “I am mentally ill, hence I am doomed for life” – This misconception must be challenged because most mental health issues can be treated. Family and community support, positive health practices and access to treatment can really enable you to lead a meaningful life.
3. “It’s shameful and disgraceful to talk to someone else about a family member living with mental illness” – If you can talk about a bout of flu, or a bad tummy, there is no reason why you cannot talk about mental illness. Mental illness is not really the problem. Rather, the stigma and oppression surrounding it is what aggravates problems for most people.
Talking about it helps, and we as a community can talk about difficult feelings and experiences. It’s okay, it’s not a weakness and it’s most definitely not a source for shame.
5. Fantastic. Finally, do you have anything to plug? It could be a product or a business, or it could be anything from a song to words of wisdom.
We are all equally vulnerable as human beings. I believe that holding space for each other’s vulnerabilities can help us grow into more resilient and stronger communities.
To quote someone who has really inspired me: Live a little, Give a little, and Dance a lot!
Thank you for reading Talkback Tuesday! You can leave a follow-up question for Nivendra in the comments below. I’ll get an answer for you.
Next, check out the previous interview from last Tuesday with Apratim Chattaraj by clicking on the image below.