Case study

SLV.Global Mental Health Placement — Samuel Davies

Before studying for a Masters in global mental health from King's College London and The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Samuel undertook an SLV.Global Mental Health Placement in Bali

What attracted you to this overseas placement?

After completing a BSc in Psychology at Birkbeck College, University of London, I decided to continue in higher education and achieve a postgraduate qualification.

However, I found out about the opportunity to volunteer in Bali for 12 weeks. This mental health placement was perfect because the country has always fascinated me - it's culturally diverse and remains popular with tourists, yet still remaining true to many of its traditions.

In addition, the placement would allow me to gain vital hands-on experience with a variety of service users in different settings. As well as exploring my interest in working with individuals with existing mental health issues, I would get to run broader community-based projects for individuals of all ages.

Finally, it was the fact that SLV.Global places a focus on promoting positive mental health in all projects and gives volunteers creative licence to conduct sessions based on your own ideas, even though you're not yet a qualified therapist.

How did you fund your trip?

It was through a number of fundraising efforts - for example, I posted regular social media updates both in the run-up to and during my placement. I included pictures of project ideas and materials while providing information in an easy-to-read format.

What was a typical day like?

As volunteers, we'd wake up early, have breakfast and get ready for the day. We'd then walk to the designated meet-up area and travel to our morning project with the other volunteers. Getting there could take anything from 15 minutes to just over an hour.

However, this gave volunteers the opportunity to go over any session plans and consolidate any logistical arrangements. Upon arrival, we'd normally spend one to two hours running our project, depending on whether this was in a school or psychiatric hospital.

After this, we'd travel back to the village to have lunch from either the amazing street food sellers or at the local restaurants/cafés. Volunteers would then reconvene at the meeting point in order to head off to their afternoon projects, which lasted for a couple of hours before we returned to the homestays.

Back at the village, volunteers could either arrange to meet up and plan/make resources for the following day's projects before the evening meal. Having dinner together was a great opportunity to spend time with our fellow housemates, as we weren't necessarily on the same projects. We could also get to know the homestay families and feed anything back to SLV.Global.

Afterwards, volunteers could either meet up again and finish off any planning, or enjoy some free time if all the planning had been completed. At least one evening a week, the SLV.Global peer mentors would organise a social event, which was a great way to relax and socialise with volunteers from other homestays.

What were the highlights?

There were many highlights of my trip to Bali. One of these was being able to work as part of an international, multi-talented team in promoting positive mental health. These friendships and professional relationships have continued beyond Bali and I'm extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to network with such a diverse range of people.

It was also great being part of a genuine grassroots programme that's run for the volunteers by the volunteers. Having the opportunity to provide feedback to the SLV.Global team and see real change develop as a result gave me real insight into how a community-based programme should be conducted.

Finally, getting to know the amazing Bali team and experiencing the country's rich and diverse culture was definitely a huge highlight. It was genuinely heart-warming to be accepted as part of the Bali family, with this extending from the homestay families and members of the local community, to SLV.Global staff and our drivers.

And the biggest challenges?

Adapting to a new culture and environment is always challenging, but having to work in an unfamiliar setting can certainly add an extra layer of pressure. While this was something I was already aware of, due to the packed timetable and constant support of the SLV.Global team, I felt able to settle in relatively quickly.

Of course, as is the nature with any mental health work, being able to look after your own mental health and wellbeing is always tough. It can be overwhelming working with vulnerable individuals wherever you are, never mind a place where you don't speak the language or have an intimate understanding of the factors influencing a person's mental health.

Despite this, SLV.Global allowed me the time and space to reflect on my experiences. Even when I didn't feel like I had the skills to self-reflect, they treated me with empathy and offered guidance either from their own experiences or through the weekly workshops.

How will the skills you developed help you in your mental health career?

Since undertaking the SLV.Global placement, I've managed to gain positions as an honorary assistant psychologist at South London and Maudsley Hospital and volunteer facilitator at The Loss Foundation, all while gaining a place on the global mental health programme at university.

The experience abroad has not only taught me valuable professional skills such as time management, punctuality, politeness and patience, but it's also given me a wide array of other skills, including the ability to more comfortable with non-verbal communication. This is extremely useful when working with service users who have learning difficulties, or those who don't speak English.

In addition, SLV.Global has taught me the value of including service users and community members in the development of projects and programmes, something which is becoming increasingly important within the NHS and other larger institutions.

I strongly believe that had I not experienced volunteering abroad through the SLV.Global placement, I wouldn't have been offered as many positions as I have, and I certainly wouldn't have applied for them with such confidence.

What advice would you give to other students and graduates?

Mental health is increasing in its importance and prominence, and as the world becomes more globalised, it's drawing the focus away from Western ways of thinking towards a diverse range of approaches. Not only does this bring cultural sensitivity, it's cost effective and more often than not results in better outcomes. You cannot truly learn how to do this or develop the necessary skills without working abroad. Therefore, I recommend that anyone considering working in mental health should complete a placement.

Finally, don't be afraid to challenge yourself and to have conversations about what you're doing. My fundraising was misunderstood to start off with, as I wasn't going on a conventional volunteer programme. By sitting and having conversations about what I was doing and really shouting it from the rooftops made everyone more aware of the work I'd be doing, as well as understanding the importance of getting involved with some form of mental health promotion. Give yourself time to grow and remember the best time to do a placement is when you feel ready.

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