University of Leicester students volunteer in Sri Lanka to expand their knowledge and understanding of global mental health

Posted by er134 at Sep 30, 2016 12:15 PM |
Psychology students Isabel Woolrych and Alice Pisoni complete mental health placement in Sri Lanka

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 30 September 2016

Images of the students in Sri Lanka available to download at:

Over the summer, University of Leicester students travelled to Sri Lanka to undertake a voluntary Mental Health Placement with SLV, a graduate-led volunteering organisation, which runs psychology-focused placements in Sri Lanka and also in Bali, Indonesia.

Here in the UK we live in one of the most multicultural societies in the world, but with this comes a great responsibility to develop an understanding of the many cultures that surround us. This is where students like Isabel Woolrych and Alice Pisoni from the University of Leicester are a step ahead by taking up international opportunities in an effort to create a cultural exchange and gain unique insight into global mental health.

During their placement Isabel, Alice and the rest of the volunteer team planned and ran therapeutic activity sessions in psychiatric facilities for individuals living with a wide range of mental health issues. In addition to their time at the hospital, volunteers also worked at numerous schools and social initiatives for children and adults with disabilities and taught English in the local community.

Many skills are honed and developed through working and living abroad. Most obviously, not sharing a common language can be a challenge and discovering new ways to make yourself understood without the aid of verbal language requires patience, innovation and creativity. The ability to be flexible and cool under pressure and to remain composed, even when things aren’t going to plan, are all attributes any future employer or educator would value.

The students worked with the local community, as well as living with a Sri Lankan family. This completely immersive experience gave Isabel and Alice a unique insight into Sri Lankan culture and daily life. The training provided is also delivered by local professionals and NGOs who know the country best. Even the most experienced and knowledgeable students can benefit from this cross-cultural exchange. Learning about mental health treatment in another country only serves to enrich one’s knowledge of global mental health and is advantageous for those looking to pursue a career working with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds.

During their placement Isabel and Alice lived out of their comfort zone for much of the week. The weekends, however, were a different story. Volunteers on the Mental Health Placement in Sri Lanka had their weekends free to roam the lush, tropical island and uncover its many secrets.

Isabel Woolrych, a second year student studying Applied Psychology at Leicester, said: “I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to volunteer with SLV in Sri Lanka and can't express how rewarding and enriching it was to take part in the projects, not to mention the amazing, unique cultural perspective that we gained. I was able to get valuable experience working in psychiatric hospitals and on special needs projects, as well as teaching English to children and adults in school, colleges and temples. It was fascinating to live and work in such a different culture and even with challenges such as the language barrier, I felt incredibly welcome and at home. The volunteers that I went with were also all such enthusiastic, caring and lovely people who I'll definitely stay in touch with!! I wouldn't change my experiences in Sri Lanka for the world and I'm so grateful for the chance to make a difference and contribute to something so special.”

Alice Pisoni, who has now graduated from the University of Leicester, said: “I have learned a great deal about Mental Health and the relevant cultural differences through new experiences and challenging situations. To be able to gain practical experience in such a dramatically different country has helped me not only to enrich my CV, but also to learn more about myself, my strengths, and my career goals.”

Dr Todor Gerdjikov, Lecturer in the Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour, said: “For psychology undergraduates, work experience through volunteering is an excellent way to gain a practical insight into a career in psychology and can give students the opportunity to find out about the aspects of our field that they enjoy most.”

Alice Turner, University Liaison Officer for SLV, said: “For today’s psychology students, who wish to pursue a career in the mental health sector, it’s important to gain worthwhile, hands-on work experience. Not only have Isabel and Alice utilised and developed important skills in their chosen field of study but they have also developed an in depth understanding of mental health from an additional cultural perspective.”


Notes to editors:

For more information contact Izzy Woolrych at:

More information about SLV at: or email:

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