Freebies are Shunned

We have always provided free counseling services to anyone in need on Fridays. Friday was the busiest day of the week, and the two of us counselors were swamped. We had families seeking assistance for children with ADHD, university students suffering from anxiety, and many others suffering from depression. They suddenly stopped coming around April of this year. There was not a single one. Not even those who had been in therapy for a few months and had been attending sessions on a regular basis.

It couldn’t have been a lack of fuel or transportation options because the majority of these clients lived far away and completed all sessions online. And it was completely free! So why would they stop?

Food prices in Sri Lanka have risen. 10 eggs cost about $3 (up until March 2022, the US dollar was LKR180-200). A kilo of chicken costs nearly $8. We can no longer afford beef or fish, and fish is even scarce because our fishermen lack kerosene for their boats, preventing them from venturing out into the ocean. For context, the average monthly wage in this country is around $250. (approximately $150 at the current exchange rate) This category includes government teachers, and we have free education. This means that more than a quarter million of the country’s 22 million people are government teachers. Over 1.2 million people are paid by the bankrupt government. For several years, labor force participation has been steadily declining (50 percent by 2020), while unemployment has been rising.

Abraham Maslow has identified that physiological needs are always top priority. People who are hungry and cannot pay their mortgage will not worry about their mental health. When their children get by with one meal a day, depressed mothers will not remember their free counseling sessions. When parents are losing their livelihoods, teenagers will not think of managing their anxieties – they will be in it. In 2020, suicides accounted for 2.5% of all deaths. I fear to think of what that rate will be for 2022. Already, bodies are washing up on the shores.

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