In the summer of 2019 I travelled to Mysore, India to embark on a mental health placement with the company SLV.Global. This involved visiting old people homes, special educational needs schools, psychiatric hospitals and dementia homes. The prospect of travelling 5000 miles alone and not knowing who I was going to be meeting at the other end was certainly daunting. It took some time to get used to the heat and the humidity, but it soon became part of my day to day life.
I certainly experienced a slight culture shock when participating in our first week of sessions, regarding the facilities and treatment of the service users. However, it is clear that the staff members all shared the same passion we did in helping them. All sessions began and ended with yoga to ensure the service users were relaxed. Mindfulness was at the centre of many of our sessions, as well as self-expression and communication skills. It was always important for the service users to feel calm around us, considering we were strangers to them.
Waiting room at the psychiatric ward
This placement taught me how to communicate effectively when there is a language barrier. Communication is key between us and the service users in order to help them feel comfortable around us and to ensure they’re engaged with activities we had planned. A lot of communication was through demonstrating the yoga and activities while supporting the service users as well by listening to what they were saying; whether they were speaking English or Kannada.
At the weekends, we were able to go explore India. On the first weekend we stayed in Mysore, and visited the palace, climbed 1000 steps up Chamundi Hills and attempted to haggle at the local markets. The following weekend we boarded the train to Bangalore to experience the city life. The streets were packed with people, cars and tuks, rather different to Mysore. Here we went to see Bangalore palace, the botanical gardens and the state cricket ground, as well doing plenty of shopping.
My month in India was an experience of a lifetime and has definitely encouraged me to take more opportunities surrounding mental health and studying abroad again. Everyone I met on the trip, be it, the other volunteers or the staff at the different centres made this trip a joyous experience, one that I will never forget.