Student summer placements in Sri Lanka

Over the summer, six undergraduate students in the School of Psychology took part in mental health, teaching and special needs placements in Sri Lanka.

Leanne Bird, Hannah Cooper, Holly Crocker, Jyrgen Ismaili, Olivia Nicholls and Rose Parker embarked on their five-week placements with the hope of gaining some hands-on psychology work experience.

Rose Parker "The placements were truly enriching and the experiences would not have been possible in the UK."

The placements were organised by SLV, a volunteer organisation founded in 2010 by a psychology graduate.

Jyrgen (far left) and Olivia (fourth from the left) outside the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy

Olivia and Rose participated in a special needs placement and Leanne, Hannah, Holly and Jyrgen in a mental health placement. They shared their skills at 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. Rose, Hannah and Holly 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, and in thoroughly under-resourced facilities and challenging environments.

Rose Parker (middle)

Rose said of her experience: “The placements were truly enriching and the experiences would not have been possible in the UK. I met some amazing, like minded people who I know I will stay in touch with, gained a lot of experience, skills and confidence and met some amazing Sri Lankans who are the kindest people you’ll ever meet.  Living with a family lets you fully immerse yourself in the culture, allowing you to truly live like a Sri Lankan!” 

Holly Crocker (left)

Holly said: “I cannot express how rewarding my five weeks volunteering with SLV in Sri Lanka really was. I was able to gain hands on experience in such a variety of areas which was an opportunity I could not have undertaken in the UK. This experience taught me a wealth of lessons but reflecting on my time there, two key ones have engrained themselves in my memory: a little can go a long way and the more you put in the more you get out. Despite the challenges I had to face, I could always return home each day knowing that no matter how simple or elaborate, small or big my therapeutic activities or lessons had been, I had helped to make a real difference to the clients I had worked with. Whether it was from the simple thank you they gave me at the end of a session, or their continued smile throughout our activities, or their enthusiasm to learn of the following week’s activities, you always felt your work was so very much appreciated.”

Hannah Cooper (third from right)

Hannah commented: “Volunteering with SLV showed me the raw side of mental health, some parts were tough and tiring, however it was an incredibly humbling experience. It was altogether the best thing I've ever done. The projects pushed you to be the best you could be, I had the opportunity to live in and explore a breathtaking country, and I made friends for life.”