Scholarship Stories: Jaya Mental Health

As one of Jaya Mental Health’s first donors, Burdett Trust has supported the training and professional development of mental health nurses in South Asia.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is João Marçal-Grilo, I am a dual national (British and Portuguese) mental health nurse and also the founder of Jaya Mental Health, a UK based NGO that supports the training of mental health nurses and other health care staff in low-income countries.

I trained at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing, King’s College London, many years ago, and after qualifying I had the privilege of working as a community nurse in various NHS mental health services across the Greater London Region.

In 2011, I joined Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and worked as a nurse consultant in a dementia service in Sri Lanka for close to two years. There, I met extraordinary mental health professionals working in services depleted of financial and human resources but doing their best to offer dignifying care to people with mental health problems.

The absence of training and professional development opportunities for our colleagues in Sri Lanka and other South Asian countries, and the lack of respect for mental health nursing professionals, were some of the main reasons that lead me to found Jaya Mental Health. Today, we are a small but highly enthusiastic team with a handful of projects in South Asia run by and for, primarily, nurses.

What is the School Nursing Project?

The Burdett Trust’s support has been central to most of our projects. In fact, the Burdett Trust was one of Jaya’s first donors. For that initial push, for believing in our potential, and for its ongoing support, we are incredibly grateful.

Our latest, and the largest of our ongoing projects funded by the Trust – our School Nursing Project – is currently taking place in Nepal.

The Nepalese Ministry of Health has recently appointed approximately 430 nurses to schools across the 7 provinces of the country. Together with one of Kathmandu’s only children’s hospitals, Jaya Mental Health has been requested by the Nursing Division of the Ministry of Health, to develop and deliver a mental health training programme for the newly appointed school nursing workforce.

Why is the School Nursing Project important?

The project is of most importance to Nepal, for several reasons:

  1. It is a sign that the Nepalese Government understands that nurses can be key players in improving health care in the country;
  2. It raises the profile of mental health and the role nurses can have in supporting children of one of the world’s 20 poorest nations with their mental and emotional well-being;
  3. It will allow qualified UK-trained mental health and school nurses to volunteer in South Asia, and share their skills with their counterparts in Nepal;
  4. It will encourage bi-lateral exchanges of knowledge and resources, and enable UK trained professionals to bring back and apply new, learnt skills and experiences to their usual place of work.

Who benefits?

The project has four main groups of beneficiaries:

  1. School-age children (approx. 21,500) studying across the 7 main provinces of Nepal
  2. School nurses (approx. 430)
  3. UK-qualified nurses (volunteer opportunities opened!)
  4. School personnel and children’s parents.

In Nepal there is an overall deep societal disapproval of mental illness; individuals experiencing mental health and emotional problems are discriminated and in many cases victims of physical, psychological and even sexual abuse. Because of gender inequalities and their role in Nepalese society, girls and young women are one the most vulnerable social groups in Nepal; suicide is the leading cause of death among Nepalese women of working age.

Ensuring that girls and boys receive support with their mental and emotional needs right from the moment they enter school is a key step to reduce suicide and self-harming statistics and improve the mental well-being of future generations in Nepal.

In addition, by investing in the training and professional development of nurses, we expect that the project will help Nepalese nurses feel more valued, resilient and above all confident in their role as important agents of change in a health care service desperate for a strong nursing workforce.

How has funding from Burdett Trust helped?

The Burdett Trust funding has helped us launch the pilot stage of this project – the training of 82 school nurses based in 2 of the 7 provinces of Nepal. With these funds, we’ve been able to engage our Nepalese-based staff in an initial needs-based assessment, as well as to send UK-trained staff on short term placements to Kathmandu – something we expect to continue over the next two years, as such placements are an integral part of the project and our approach.

The evaluation and outcomes of the pilot stage will be crucial to the expansion of the project to the other 5 provinces of the country.

How will the School Nursing Project develop in the future?

The project will expand to all provinces of Nepal; numbers of qualified nurses in Nepal are very low when compared to those in the UK or even other low-income nations. The government and its Ministry of Health has plans to increase the number of nurses allocated to schools, however, this depends on the availability of graduates to fill newly created posts.

The long-term aim of our partnership and this project is to develop a school mental health nursing training and supervision model that can be replicated not just to other provinces in Nepal and to a greater number of schools, but also to other countries in South Asia. We aim to equip future Nepalese school nurses with the tools and confidence that will enable them to train others in Nepal and South Asia, and to become experts and owners of the change needed in the region.

Where can people go to find out more about the School Nursing Project?

We are always looking for support and for nurses interested in getting involved in our overseas projects – so we look forward to hearing from you all.

About Jaya Mental Health

YouTube: Jaya Mental Health
Instagram: @jayamentalhealth
LinkedIn: Jaya Mental Health

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