I took part in a 5 week long placement as a Mental Health volunteer with SLV Global in the Colombo district of Sri Lanka. One of the reasons I chose Sri Lanka as the country to carry out this placement in, was because of the lack of resources that they have for the mental health sector, as well as the fact that it is a country with one of the highest suicide rates in the world and a lot of stigma surrounding mental health.
During our orientation week, I attended training on how to appropriately work with vulnerable individuals, as well as learn a little more about the mental health infrastructure within Sri Lanka. I learnt that the reason the suicide rates are so high, is because with so many individuals, due to the stigma attached to seeking professional mental health support, they delay in doing so or do not seek it at all. This leads to various mental health issues becoming a lot more severe a lot faster, than they potentially would if treatment and therapy was sought out sooner.
During my placement, I had the opportunity to work in various psychiatric hospital facilities and Special Educational needs residential centres, and run creative therapeutic sessions there, alongside a few other volunteers. I was able to work with individuals suffering from a wide scope of different mental health problems, allowing me to gain valuable first hand experience. Before I left for my placement, I was slightly worried about the culture shock I might be faced with, as I was living with a Sri Lankan family within a very non-touristy community. However, I think this was one of the things I enjoyed most about my placement, outside of the work itself. It allowed me to experience a full cultural immersion and let me really learn what it is like to be part of a Sri Lankan family, and live by their rules and traditions. Another thing I was slightly concerned about was the language barrier that I might be faced with with certain service users. However, I think in some instances speaking a different language was actually beneficial, as it encouraged me to be more creative with non-verbal interaction, which for some individuals actually seemed to be more effective.
From my time in Sri Lanka, I have learnt that we should be very grateful for the mental health services that we do have in the UK. Although they are far from perfect, they are much more advanced and readily available than they are in some other countries. I think that it’s crucially important that collectively we work towards trying to break down the stigma that there still is around mental health all over the world, as this will help people on an individual and community based level. I have also learnt that a career in clinical psychology is something I definitely want to pursue as I loved the opportunities I had to work in psychiatric hospitals and it is definitely something I want to do more of.