A pair of University of Bedfordshire graduates travelled abroad on summer placements, helping to improve mental health care in the Sri Lanka.
Katie Thomasson and Bryony Lewin-Playford, graduates in Sport and Exercise Science, and Psychology and Criminal Behaviour, respectively, spent between five and 12 weeks abroad as part of SLV's Mental Health Placement.
Bryony and Katie shared their skills at psychiatric hospitals, taught English to children and ran therapeutic activity sessions at centres for individuals with mental health issues.
Katie, who spent the summer months of 2014 in the South-Asian nation, said that, despite early anxiety about travelling halfway across the globe, the experience was essential.
“This was really my first long time away from home so I was nervous before I went,” she said. “However, I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life!
“The skills I came back with are invaluable. I have learnt how to get over that communication barrier when someone doesn't understand what you are saying and I am now definitely more appreciative of what I have.
“I am also a lot more patient. You learn to understand that some things may take time.”
Katie recalls one particular patient who has stuck in her mind ever since.
“There was one lady who was completely bed bound at one of the adult learning-disability patient centres.
“She couldn't talk or even move her head, but I would just place some music next to her head. It could be anything, but as soon as it played, her face lit up. It was the most satisfying reaction; knowing that all you had to do to brighten someone's day was play some music for them!”
The problem of mental health is particularly pertinent to Sri Lanka, with stigma still widespread and just one psychiatrist per half a million people.
Supported by Sri Lankan mental health professionals, Bryony and Katie worked sensitively within the country’s culture and acclimatised to a challenging environment with under-resourced facilities.
Bryony added: “I enjoyed my time in Sri Lanka and the projects gave me more of an insight into what I want to do career-wise,” said Bryony. “It was never a dull day and the culture was amazing.
“[I] would recommend [it] to anyone looking for some psychology experience.”
SLV is recruiting new team members for Mental Health, Teaching and Special Needs Placements in 2016. Visit slvolunteers.com for more information.
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