Thanks to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund, I was very fortunate to partake in a Psychology placement for 5 weeks in Sri Lanka as part of the organisation SLV Global. It’s a training organisation that works alongside the London-based organisation Samutthana, which acts as resource centre for trauma and mental health. They are an organisation that allows Psychology students and graduates, such as myself, the opportunity to gain invaluable field experience within the mental health sector. Most importantly, SLV guarantees a direct positive impact for the patients.
My time with SLV was dedicated to running workshops and activities for the patients through various creative therapies, namely music and sensory. I was assigned to multiple psychiatric wards, where I worked with patients of all ages with special needs and other various mental issues. I had previously never worked directly with patients before therefore at first it was quite a daunting experience. Whilst there has been an increase in awareness of mental health issues in the West, countries such as Sri Lanka are still a step behind in understanding and de-stigmatising mental health. This experience was a life-enriching opportunity for me as I noticed how our work was a step closer in not only helping patients, but also addressing the stigmas within the country.
So why does Sri Lanka have this stigma? Before my placement I had only heard of the hardship and trauma that Sri Lanka suffered as a result of the 2004 tsunami and their 25-year civil war. Unaware of the fragility of psychosocial care that exists was a matter concerning culture, the healthcare system, education and funding. Now I am able to realise the desperate help and change Sri Lanka needs in order to progressively shift individual’s healthy recovery. Were you aware that individuals would travel across the country for more than 7 hours to receive treatment from a doctor? Even doctors struggle to keep up with the demands due to being extremely under-resourced, therefore giving the patient only 5 minutes with them. There is a total of 67 Psychiatrists in the country, which means one doctor is responsible for roughly 10,000 patients. Even yet Psychiatrists are considered “crazy-doctors” and the good doctors are the ones who prescribe numerous medications to a patient. Psychiatrists are the only doctors within the mental health sector that are funded by the government, as they disregard Psychological therapies or techniques. The reliance on medication means that the patient does not receive a progressive treatment or resolution to their illness. Additionally, Psychologists and clinicians receive no funding from the government because their method of therapy goes unacknowledged. Therefore this makes a Psychiatrists’ time with their patients very limited and also drives mental health doctors to seek for better pay abroad.
The deep-rooted stigma creates a vicious cycle in Sri Lanka where there is a desperate need for help. I am proud and thankful to have been a part of an organisation where my help was provided to those who desperately needed it.