Refusing to end the sentence
By Bernadine Rodrigo
It is not untrue to say that every individual goes through a number of pitfalls when travelling the path that is life, and it is only human to be faced with a sense of darkness and pain when falling or attempting to get up.
Until about the 20th Century, emotional or mental inability to cope was simply considered a weakness of the flesh and a menace to the normal functioning of society as its unpleasant effects were more or less ignored. However, with the spark by pioneers such as the father of psychology, Wilhelm Wundt, the intriguing Sigmund Freud, and other similar thinkers such as Carl Jung and Anna Freud, the need for a release of emotional burdens carried by those in difficult circumstances was brought to light. The western world was quick to develop many types of psychiatric and therapeutic methods to tackle the issue, and these emerged gradually over the course of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.
It was at a much slower pace that these qualitative processes said to improve the quality of human life reached the East, and its progress is still stagnant in many places and even more so in conservative Southeast Asia.
In an environment that still has a great amount of stigma and negative attitudes towards mental health and emotional problems, a progressive thinker, Shavintha Fernando, ached to be of aid to those in need – those who needed their starved hearts nourished. “I thought about it a lot but didn’t know how to implement it,” Fernando said, “and I was too scared to take the risk.”
This idea of his was “The Semicolon Effect”, an organisation that provides support to those who need it through group therapy. Fernando’s own need for support fuelled the establishment of this organisation.
When asked about the reason behind his idea for the project, Fernando stated: “Therapy and counselling in Sri Lanka are somewhat expensive. And especially when you are just starting off with a career or engaged in studies, it’s difficult to financially support yourself for therapy and usually, discussing mental health with parents isn’t an option, or doesn’t go down too well.
“So, The Semicolon Effect works in terms of group therapy. This is a platform where members who struggle with mental illness can come and openly discuss their struggles and relate to each other, because we feel that no one understands you better than someone going through the same or similar situation.”
They conduct meetings every weekend at Café Sociale (the official venue sponsor) to speak in peace about their week and the struggles they each faced. Their technique of problem-solving is prioritising specific areas and addressing each area separately through individual exercises and also with the help of guest speakers.
It doesn’t end there. Fernando went on to say that they even collaborate and are in touch with a bank of psychologists from who they can get professional help if they believe that the members require it. Added to this, they also experiment with various methods of therapy such as puppy therapy, art therapy, the use of self-esteem montages, and many more.
With all these activities and their weekend meet-ups, those in The Semicolon Effect primarily aim to make a reality what is hidden behind the “semi-colon”, which, as Fernando explains in depth, “is the symbol for suicide prevention and awareness.
The concept is that a semicolon is used when the author could have chosen to end their sentence but chose not to. To put this into context – you are the author and the sentence is your life”.