Sandy beaches and psychological wellbeing: mental health in South-East Asia

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SLV.Global is a mental health organisation that provides educational and volunteer placements in Europe, Sri Lanka, India, and Bali. Last April, I was lucky enough to complete my placement in Bali, during which I was able to gain hands on experience within a clinical setting, and discover more about psychological practices outside of the Western world, whilst giving back to the communities that allowed me to learn.

My role as a Mental Health Activity Support Worker involved planning and running non-verbal activity sessions for service users in diverse settings, in addition to teaching English to at-risk children. Each of these sessions was designed to improve an aspect of the individual’s psychological wellbeing, whether that was through art therapy, or improving problem solving and critical thinking skills. With this aim of promoting positive psychology within psychiatric settings, it was unbelievable to see even within just a 4-week placement the positive impact it had on the mood and sociability of the service users.

In Indonesia there are 0.31 Psychiatrists per 100,000 residents

What first attracted me to SLV.Global were the incredible countries I had the opportunity to work in. However, whilst these locations are most appealing, it was not the hot weather and idyllic scenery that brought SLV.Global to these parts of the world. The real motivation lies within providing mental health care and resources in places where these are hugely scarce. In Indonesia in particular, there are 0.31 Psychiatrists per 100,000 residents, and 48 mental hospitals, only one of which is in Bali (World Health Organisation, 2017). This displays the importance of providing such help, and is what particularly resonated with me whilst I was on placement.

Residing in the Western world, we are very lucky to have at our disposal some of the world’s leading medical specialists and researchers, who are constantly expanding our knowledge of a variety of conditions, from cancer to schizophrenia. This is made possible through funding and physical resources, such as research centres and hospitals. However, many developing countries do not have this luxury. Organisations such as SLV.Global are laying the foundations for tackling this disparity, and encouraging professionals to share the knowledge that we possess in the West with populations that have a significant lack of resources to build upon such knowledge of their own.

This shame stems from the belief that illnesses, such as schizophrenia, arise from being possessed by a demon or evil spirit

Whilst negative stigma surrounding mental health is still a huge problem within the UK, it has much less severe consequences compared to Indonesia. Family members of those suffering with mental health disorders feel a great sense of shame. This shame stems from the belief that illnesses, such as schizophrenia, arise from being possessed by a demon or evil spirit. This has damaging implications for those who suffer from such conditions, as they are deprived of the help and support they need. The sessions provided by SLV.Global volunteers aim to open up the conversation surrounding mental health, whilst not forcing our Western explanations and treatment of mental illness upon a culture that will still favour a traditional healer over a Doctor.

My experiences with SLV.Global have hugely expanded my knowledge on global mental health, and have allowed me to gain invaluable clinical experience that has shaped my plans for my future. As a generation, it is our responsibility to be proactive in elevating discussions around mental health if we are to remove its stigma, thus allowing us to help those who need it the most.

Photo credit: Kenny Teo via Flickr

2 thoughts on “Sandy beaches and psychological wellbeing: mental health in South-East Asia

  • Two Views:

    Yours: Whilst negative stigma surrounding mental health is still a huge problem within the UK
    Mine: Whilst promoting negative stigma surrounding mental health is still a huge problem within the UK

    Yes, promoting that prejudice in the UK is a widespread problem.

    Harold A Maio

    Reply
  • Great article … enjoyed reading

    Reply

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