University of Northampton Mental Health (MH) Nursing students Will McIlhiney, from Northampton and Laura Jolley, from Wellingborough, packed their rucksacks for a placement in Sri Lanka, to embellish their studies by getting hands-on experience working with MH teams overseas.
Here they and their lecturer, Francis Beckett, blog about what they did and what they, and future nursing students, can get out of our ‘Global approach to nursing.’
The placement to volunteer in the Sri Lankan mental health service was sponsored by Santander Universities* who gave us almost all of the funding needed to cover the costs. We are very grateful to them for doing this, and hope they will be happy to do this again for future students!
The placement was organised to allow our students to gain a first-hand understanding of how mental health service are structured and delivered in other parts of the world, with a particular emphasis on non-European health systems.
At the University our students study ‘transcultural’ aspects of nursing as part of their degree in Mental Health Nursing and the trip to Sri Lanka enables them to see how methodologies such as mindfulness and Ayurvedic medicine is used in conjunction with more familiar western psychiatric approaches.
I hope Will and Laura, now back in the UK, go on to broaden the discussion about how to meet the mental health needs of people from diverse backgrounds and to be ambassadors for the inclusion of nursing practice that cuts across difference countries and cultures as their careers develop.
The placement was split into a few different activities. We spent time in two different, hospital-based psychiatric outpatient appointments which introduced us to the treatment options available as well as the structure of the Sri Lankan mental health system and also visited the National Council for Mental Health.
At both, we had the chance to engage with these people both in conversation and physical activity, which was an important part of the daily routine there. They spoke to us about their histories and treatment.
We also helped out at a special needs school and government orphanage, spending time teaching and engaging the children in games, holding influential roles despite the language barrier.
The company we were with in Sri Lanka (‘Plan My Gap Year’) also prepared us to go, which made it a lot less stressful, I can’t recommend them enough for a similar experience. After doing what we have, I genuinely feel everyone will benefit from an experience like this, so if you have the chance, take it!
The company that we were volunteering with also donates to the projects through their fees, so we made an indirect financial contribution.
For future volunteers, I would highly recommend an experience similar to ours. Being so involved in another culture will teach you so much more than is possible from the UK, it was rich and deep learning experience.
I feel very strongly about the experience we had and how it opened my mind to other cultures’ management of mental health. It’s had an impact that’s very hard to describe, especially as someone who previously considered themselves to be culturally ‘aware’. Overall, our presence and involvement in the projects had a positive benefit.
This whole experience wouldn’t have been possible without the partnerships University of Northampton has. Throughout my course, the UON nursing department has taught us the importance of transcultural nursing and I’m so glad to have benefited from what they had to offer.
At the weekends, we had some free time which allowed us to get more of a feel of Sri Lanka by exploring different places. Will and I got to spend a day on other volunteering projects in the area such as turtle conservation, an elephant experience and renovation in the community.
I think we had a positive impact whilst volunteering, more so on the well-being of the children at the Special Educational Needs School. We were warm in our approach and our attitude was positive. The children were always happy to see us and they were very lively! Their spoken English levels varied, but the teachers were grateful for us assisting the children with their school work and playtime.
Those positive outcomes were definitely reciprocated. I found the experience highly rewarding and beneficial to my own well-being. From experiencing mental health in a non-western culture, this has opened my eyes to different therapeutic approaches, treatments, values and beliefs to mental health. I’ve learnt that there are similarities between our approaches and treatments to mental health but the delivery completely contrasts.
I feel we really helped the people we met, especially when talking to the patients at the mental health hospital. The patients were willing to talk to us about themselves, their experience of mental health and what is provided to them. They took an interest in knowing about us as individuals and why we wanted to be mental health nurses.
There are elements that I have learnt that I can incorporate as I practice and develop in my career. I thank the University of Northampton and Santander for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity, it’s been fantastic.
I would recommend this placement to anyone who is thinking of volunteering. You are supported with everything and take part in work and activities you wouldn’t get to experience anywhere else.
For more about the Mental Health Nursing course at University of Northampton, see our website.
*For more about Santander Universities, see their website.