Students work in Sri Lanka to help improve mental health care

University of Bedfordshire students on placement in Sri Lanka.
University of Bedfordshire students on placement in Sri Lanka.

Two University of Bedfordshire graduates have been working to help improve mental health care in Sri Lanka.

Katie Thomasson and Bryony Lewin-Playford, graduates in sport and exercise science, and psychology and criminal behaviour, spent between five and 12 weeks abroad as part a placement scheme.

Bryony and Katie shared their skills at psychiatric hospitals, taught English to children and ran therapeutic activity sessions at centres for people 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.

She said: “This was really my first long time away from home so I was nervous before I went. 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.

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. It was never a dull day and the culture was amazing.”