Consumer Movement of Sri Lanka

World Health Report, 2001 stated that a high prevalence of poverty among people with mental health problems underlines the vicious cycle of exclusion and poverty. In that background, VSO Sri Lanka organized a stakeholder workshop to discuss the reasons for the social marginalization of people with mental health problems in 2004.

The workshop identified the main reasons for the social marginalization of people with mental health problems as:
  1. Society’s ignorance of mental health problems
  2. Poor access to mental health services resulting in lack of treatment and rehabilitation
  3. Economic barriers, which increase their social disadvantages.

The first consumer organization was formed by the persons with lived experiences of mental illness and community volunteers from five divisional secretariat divisions in Southern and Sabaragamuwa provinces, as an outcome of the BasicNeeds Sri Lanka’s Community Mental Health and Development programme. BasicNeeds Sri Lanka implemented the programme on a pilot basis (2002/2007) in collaboration with the government and other stakeholders.

Following the process, the mental health professionals and mental health services around the country and NGOs formed consumer organizations of their service users. The purpose of organizing such groups is to build the capacity of mental health service users and carers for improved rehabilitation care and continuous treatment. Persons with lived experiences of mental illness and their families joined these forums with the expectation of participating in collective initiatives to fight the stigma and to improve social integration of themselves and their families.

BasicNeeds, VSO and WHO, together with the Mental Health Directorate of the Ministry of Health, had a comprehensive institutional strengthening program (2007 – 2017) covering about 30 consumer organizations around the country. This has boosted their activism and actions in the community and participation in district-, provincial- and national level interventions.

Consumer Action Network Mental Health Lanka, called CAN MH Lanka, was established in 2012 by networking the consumer organizations countrywide, aiming to empower the mental health consumers and improve the awareness about mental health in the community.


People with mental health problems and the consumer movement of Sri Lanka face many challenges. Some of them are being there throughout the period since they first identified.
Poor knowledge among consumers, families and the general community causes stigma, mistrust, violation of rights and loss the roles in the family. Some people are expelled from families due to mental health problems, and most others are being neglected. Their family roles are disregarded, and their ideas are not considered valid.
The support from the government and private sector for education and work is much lower, and they are given limited opportunities for employment, education and engagement in the community. The majority of people diagnosed with mental health problems are of poor education level, which is another reason for unemployment. Low confidence among persons with mental health problems also does not allow them to engage in the community and seek opportunities.
A preponderance of the people with mental health problems is from poor economic backgrounds. Therefore, it isn't easy to invest in treatment as well as for self-employment or entrepreneurship. Even the available marketplaces are not open for them, or they cannot afford the rents.
Networking helps disadvantaged groups to overcome the problems they commonly face. But most people do not know the importance of networking. It affects the sustainability of community networks and organizations. Even the community networks exist, there are no meeting places for them. Therefore, organizations are limited to hospitals.
There are minimal opportunities for rehabilitation activities and a limited number of professionals working in the rehabilitation sector. There are times some drugs are not available as well. Some of the side effects do not allow persons with mental health problems to engage in day-to-day activities. The inactivity caused by illness, side effects and no rehabilitation make the person worthless, which leads to stigma and discrimination.