On this World Mental Health Day, CAMH is pleased to share it has partnered with the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) in Sri Lanka to support the delivery of virtual training and education to mental health care providers throughout the South Asian island nation.
Under the partnership, CAMH experts will train and mentor staff at NIMH to support the implementation of the ECHO Model, an internationally acclaimed and evidence-based knowledge-sharing and capacity building model. CAMH started ECHO Ontario Mental Health in 2015, and has lead the expansion of the program to 15 mental health and addictions ECHO programs, predominantly serving remote and underserved communities.
“Since then CAMH has really grown as an organization and become a national resource for ECHO training programs across Canada,” said CAMH Vice President of Education and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sanjeev Sockalingam. “Our long history of education and training in culturally-adapted, patient-centered mental health care makes us the ideal site to help support the spread of ECHO globally through international partnerships like this one with Sri Lanka.”
ECHO is a virtual training and capacity-building model that supports health care providers to deliver high quality, evidence-based mental health and addictions care in local communities where mental health resources are often scarce. Using what is known as a “hub and spoke” model, ECHO connects experts at the hub—in this case the country’s largest mental health hospital in the capital Colombo—with primary care and other healthcare providers in remote areas across the country to share knowledge, expand clinical skills and capacity, and improve care for people with mental illness.
Dr. Sockalingam and a CAMH team that includes Senior Scientist Dr. Arun Ravindran, and the previous ECHO Ontario Mental Health Manager Maurey Nadarajah, all of whom have roots in Sri Lanka, have been there several times with other CAMH ECHO team members in the past few years to provide training and expertise to adapt the ECHO model to the unique needs of Sri Lanka, which is still recovering from a decade-long civil war. It also has a highly centralized system in which every patient who needs acute mental health care beyond a few days is transferred to the capital.
“The philosophy of ECHO is moving knowledge not people,” says Maurey. “It is difficult to access specialty care in Sri Lanka for mental health, so ECHO is a good fit.”
Under the new ECHO program, a multi-disciplinary team of clinicians in Sri Lanka that includes physicians, nurses, social workers and medical officers, will hold monthly meetings at the hub in Colombo with health care providers in more remote areas across the country where mental health resources and expertise is more limited. The NIMH ECHO team trained by CAMH will provide enhanced training and education regarding best practices and the most current evidence for treating a variety of mood and substance use disorders.
“The hope is that it will allow more patients to receive the care they need in their local communities,” said Dr. Sockalingam. “For patients who do need to be transferred to Colombo, the health care providers there would know more about the patient and be able to provide more timely patient-centered care.”
Dr. Ravindran says CAMH’s relationship with Sri Lanka dates back almost 20 years. After it was devastated by the tsunami of 2003, Dr. Ravindran, with the encouragement of CAMH’s first CEO Dr. Paul Garfinkel, was part of an international team that received a Canadian International Development Agency grant to develop a five-year plan to improve the state of mental health care nationwide. That support continued throughout the leadership of CEO’s Dr. Catherine Zahn and now Sarah Downey.
“CAMH prides itself in being a leader in global mental health and it has always had a soft spot for Sri Lanka,” says Dr. Ravindran, who is back in Colombo to mark the beginning of the ECHO partnership with officials from National Institute for Mental Health.
“The mental health expertise we have at CAMH is unique and it is part of our mission to address mental health disparities here in Ontario of course, but also nationally and internationally,” added Dr. Sockalingam, whose parents immigrated to Winnipeg from Sri Lanka. “We are one of the few mental health centres in the world that has the capacity to support global partnerships like this one.”