Graduates support mental health projects in Sri Lanka
Jessica Stubbs, who graduated this summer, and Stefan Greenidge, who graduated in 2014, took part in the mental health work placement scheme run by SLV, a volunteer organisation established by psychology graduates, which has seen over 1000 psychology students and graduates take part since it was founded in 2010.
Mental health care in Sri Lanka is in its infancy and stigma for those with mental health issues is still widespread, with just one psychiatrist for every 500,000 people. SLV volunteers like Jessica and Stefan are helping to reduce the care deficit by boosting the existing resources, and offering stimulating therapeutic activity sessions for service users during all stages of their recovery.
Jessica and Stefan shared their skills by working at psychiatric hospitals and running therapeutic activity sessions at centres for individuals with various specific needs. They were trained and supported by Sri Lankan Mental Health professionals to help equip them with the skills to work sensitively within the Sri Lankan culture.
Jessica, who is now working as a support worker, explained: “I was based in a beautiful, rural area about an hour from Colombo. A group of us lived with a Sri Lankan family and got the public buses to projects each day so got the true Sri Lankan experience. We worked in a rehabilitation centre and the National Institute of Mental Health, running projects and activities for the clients including arts and crafts, music, and sports; and provided opportunities for them to have a good chat to someone.
“I also had the opportunity to get involved in teaching and special needs projects, which was completely new to me and allowed me to gain and develop a wide range of skills with both adults and children. It was a great first experience of working in a clinical setting and in such a wonderful country! The placement helped to open my eyes to mental health and assisted me in my decision that I would like to pursue a career within the field at some point in the future.”
Stefan added: “Working first-hand with people who have a mental illness gives you a true insight into challenges faced by these people on a day to day basis. The programme allows you to gain experience while deciding your next step in psychology.”
All psychology students at Leeds Beckett University are encouraged to seek as much work experience as possible throughout their course, with all students fulfilling at least two weeks’ work experience in their second years as part of their Individual Differences and Work Behaviour module. The module allows students to use the theory learnt to reflect on their work experience and submit an assessed reflective report.
Dr Helen Fawkner, Psychology Course Leader, said: “Employers expect students to come out ‘work-ready’. Knowing about a specific discipline isn’t really enough anymore; so these types of placements help students to gain this experience. Plus, there are huge advantages in working outside the UK and getting a first-hand understanding of how things might be done in different cultural contexts.”
Helen Woolnough, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Beckett, added: “Our students engage in a variety of wonderful opportunities from volunteering in schools at home and abroad to working with the Addressing Sexual Bullying across Europe (ASBAE) project, alongside researchers here in the Psychology department.”
Jessica said: “I liked the fact that my course introduced me to the range of areas of psychology, allowing me to recognise my interest in clinical, cognitive and biopsychological aspects of the subject. I also appreciated the on-going available support from tutors throughout the course.”
The SLV mental health placement is partnered with the King’s College London Resource Centre for Trauma, Displacement and Mental Health.