University of Northampton student, Nicole Tomas, has recently returned from Sri Lanka where she gained crucial experience working with those with mental health issues.
As part of her Clinical Psychology doctorate course, Nicole spent six weeks participating in a mental health placement, which was arranged by SLV, a volunteer organisation. This gave her the opportunity to share her skills at a number of psychiatric hospitals and ran therapeutic activity sessions at centres for individuals with various specific needs.
Mental health care in Sri Lanka is in its infancy. The stigma for those with mental health issues is still widespread, and with just one psychiatrist for every 500,000 people, there is still a long way to go. In the past five years, over 1,000 psychology students have joined SLV to dedicate their time to supporting people with mental health issues in Sri Lanka to reduce the care deficit by boosting the existing resources in place, and offering stimulating therapeutic activity sessions for service users during all stages of their recovery.
The SLV mental health placement is partnered with the King’s College London Resource Centre for Trauma, Displacement and Mental Health. Nicole was trained and supported by Sri Lankan mental health professionals to help equip her with the skills to work sensitively within the Sri Lankan culture, and in thoroughly under-resourced facilities and challenging environments.
Nicole commented: “Getting the opportunity to spend six weeks in Sri Lanka was truly an amazing experience. At first you feel overwhelmed living with strangers, in a completely different country with no idea what to expect, but after a few days this disappears as you realise that everyone else has been in your position at some point. All the other volunteers were so friendly – some of which I still keep in contact with today almost one year later!
“Experiencing mental health from a Sri Lankan perspective was definitely an eye-opener. It made me realise to be so grateful for the services and support the UK has to offer those that have mental health illnesses or learning difficulties. I feel I made a true connection with some patients through the therapeutic activities that us volunteers offered. Watching them having fun was enough to make you feel proud that you have made their day just that little bit better. With Sri Lanka not having enough funding to provide such therapeutic activities, it makes you realise that you may have been the only person the patient has spoken to in hours as the nurses are stretched for time, which made it all the more special. On a personal level, being in Sri Lanka has taught me a lot. It taught me to challenge my fear.”