Observe the mental
health system in
Sri Lanka

Observe in hospitals, half way homes and at a local Ayurveda clinic

Apply now
  • Duration
    1-12 Weeks
  • Minimum age
  • Start dates
    1st & 3rd Saturday
  • From
  • Duration
    1-12 Weeks
  • Minimum age
  • Start dates
    1st & 3rd Saturday
  • From

Sri Lanka Mental Health & Psychology Experience

Gain a unique experience as you observe in several hospitals, within a half way home and at a local Ayurveda clinic. During your volunteering placement, you will receive a broad overview, understanding and insight into the mental health care system  in Sri Lanka.

By spending time shadowing and observing mental health doctors, you will gain a real insight into the struggles faced and the stark contrasts of how a developing country treats their patients.

You will be primarily based in the Galle District, which was one of the worst affected regions from the devastating 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. To this day, it has left a lasting impact both physically and mentally on the Sri Lankan people.

In recent decades, the mental health needs of Sri Lanka have continued to increase and the services in place have failed to respond to the increasing development and demand. It’s is estimated that in areas that were affected by the tsunami, over 40% of people suffer from common mental disorder and a 3% prevalence of severe mental disorder.

Recent research conducted by the World Health Organisation, states that the suicide rate in Sri Lanka is amongst the highest in the world.

It is no wonder why the Ministry of Health are suffering from excessive workloads, with too many patients assigned to each clinic and simply not enough time for doctors to spend with each patient. Not only this, but there is a shortage of supply of essential medicines and a lack of community based psychiatric treatment settings.

In recent times, there has been encouraging signs of mental health care services being ingrained, accepted and made accessible to the general population as part of Sri Lanka’s primary health care in both government and private hospitals.

With the emergence of The National Council for Mental Health, the country is now moving away from the traditional cultural stigma. Understanding and helping people who are suffering from trauma and stress, rehabilitation of people with prolonged mental illnesses and raising awareness within the local communities are all now a major focus.

You will spend time shadowing and observing mental health doctors during their consultation periods with in-ward and out-ward patients at Balapitiya Base Hospital, just a short 15-minute drive from the volunteer accommodation. Here you will witness varying forms of mental illnesses and will learn a lot about the processes and potential solutions.

Participants will also usually get the chance to spend time at the National Institute of Mental Health Hospital at least once every other week – the largest hospital for mental health in Sr Lanka. You will get a tour of all the in-patient services such as psycho-geriatric, ECT and isolation units and they go about administering therapies, drugs and injections. During your time here, you will also receive a presentation around mental health in Sri Lanka and see the range of out-patient services, such as the day rehabilitation centre.

Another major part of your placement, will be volunteering at the National Council for Mental Health. This ‘half-way home’ treatment centre aims to integrate those with mental illness back into society. Located close to Colombo, the NCMH is very much a forward-thinking framework which is all about rehabilitation for the patients.

You will be able to partake and observe their daily schedule of activities or consultations, where you will get the chance to interact with those based at the home (including staff and patients), ask them questions and learn about their experiences. You will also get the chance to support hands on occupational therapy, assisting with creative arts and also running the daily exercise classes.

Last but not least, all volunteers will get the exciting chance to learn more about the traditional Ayurvedic medicine (also called Ayurveda) by spending one day at the special local clinic. Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world’s oldest medical systems (dating back over 3000 years) and promotes the use of herbal compounds, special diets and other unique health practices.

You will be volunteering from Monday to Friday and depending on your placement for that day, you could start as early as 8am and finish around 5pm. Below you will find an example itinerary for your first week in Sri Lanka, but please note this is just a guide.

Monday - National Council for Mental Health
Tuesday – Balapitiya Base Hospital
Wednesday – Ayurvedic medicine clinic
Thursday – Balapitiya Base Hospital
Friday – National Institute Mental Health Hospital

When at the hospital settings, the doctor will aim to translate and explain as much as possible to participants when the consultation is taking place. However, it is important for volunteers to be flexible in this environment and be appreciative that a doctor’s schedule is busy.

As Sri Lanka is a developing country, the facilities and services can sometimes reflect this. Please be aware that from time to time factors outside of our control may limit the project and schedule availability. Anything from doctor strikes to holidays can affect the programme and we will do our best to arrange alternative activities.

This mental health and psychology programme is only available to those already studying a psychology or mental health related degree at university. Please note we cannot guarantee your level of hands-on involvement and this will be at the sole discretion of your supervisor in-country and based on experience, duration and willingness to get involved. 

"My two weeks in Sri Lanka on the mental health programme was amazing! Everyday offered a different setting and scenario and I learnt so much from the local team and made so many great new friends along the way."

Conserving sea turtles in Sri Lanka

There is no better feeling in the world than watching a hundred or so baby turtle hatchlings scrambling along the shoreline to the sea, the determination and drive to reach the ocean, it never gets old.

Martin's story

Volunteering in Sri Lanka with my partner

Our visit to Sri Lanka on the Sea Turtle program was nothing but incredible (other than a little hot and sweaty). Our 3 weeks was amazing from day one, with a massive warm welcome from everyone.

Catherine's story

Teaching and turtles in Sri Lanka

I went to Sri Lanka in January 2019 to volunteer on the sea turtle program, but was also able to help teach English. I had a huge sense of fulfillment from both projects in completely different ways.

Esther's story