So, give us a bit of background. Who is Karen Ollosson and how did you get to where you are?
I’m a mature mental health student at UEA, where I’ve been studying for the last year and a half. Before that, I was working in child and adolescent mental health, the last two years of which were clinical, and mainly involved working with children who have eating disorders.
Throughout my career in healthcare, I’ve always wanted to know more. I started off my journey as admin in a nursing home, but my curiosity led me to take exams to further my knowledge. Becoming a medical secretary allowed me to become a member of the NHS, where I joined the eating disorders team, becoming their administrator. Soon, a position came up that meant I could jump across the line and go into clinical.
By this point, I’d done my foundation degree in mental health practice, but I still wanted to know more. When the time was right, I managed to get a place at UEA to do mental health nursing!
What are some of the challenges with studying as a mature student?
Like everything, it’s got benefits and negatives. The challenges are getting your head back into that academic frame of mind. I’d already broken into this by doing my nursing foundation, so it made sense to me to keep hold of that and do my degree with that fresh in my mind.
What made you want to take an elective overseas?
It was a challenge, and I love a challenge! I considered various places, couldn’t make my mind up and ended up thinking okay, first find the organisation you want to go with, and then go from there.
So what made Work the World your organisation of choice?
I know that a lot of my student colleagues and tutors at the university had gone with WtW, and had great things to say. I also read feedback online which was absolutely fabulous and has been my experience so far. The website and MyTrip pages are all very slick, and extremely helpful in terms of keeping track of the process.
Why Dar es Salaam in Tanzania?
It was somewhere I thought would be challenging. I had thought about Sri Lanka, but had been to India on holiday and so experienced a similar culture. I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone, so Dar es Salaam it was! I’ve never been to Africa, only learnt about it in school. It’s just such a fascinating culture. I can’t wait to get arrive this Summer!
Let’s dig into mental health. How do you think the approach to mental health will differ in Tanzania versus the UK?
I’ve tried hard not to read up too much about what other people have experienced as I don’t want to go with any preconceived ideas. That aside, it’s natural to build some up. I expect it to be completely different to what we have over here. I want to see how they work, how they manage with little resources, and how stigma is managed. I do think there will be an increased amount of stigma. I understand this isn’t just towards the patients themselves, but to the families of patients, and, interestingly, also to the mental health staff. The stigma stretches that far.
What do you hope to learn when you’re in Tanzania, and how will the experience help you do a better job when you come home after?
I hope to learn how they manage mental health out there. In the UK we use resources like the DSM5, (diagnostic statistical manual 5th version) to diagnose someone. This is how we know what we’re looking for.
I’m curious as to how they do this in Tanzania. What do they consider mental health? They might have dramatic things going on that they don’t classify as mental health for lots of reasons—perhaps stigma, religious reasons, or more. What to they classify as a mental health problem? Is it just at the very acute end? What do they do and how do they manage it?
I’ve also heard that preventative mental health doesn’t exist in Tanzania in the same way that it does in the UK. This is because over there the family is most likely to deal with it behind closed doors as it’s such a taboo. There are so many factors I’m curious to gain an understanding of it. I’m aware than in two weeks I’m never going to understand it fully; that would take years!
So let’s get into the fundraising. What have you been doing to get money together for the trip?
I applied to three different bursaries that were available at my university. Two I am not expecting to get, but one I have got, which has been put towards my trip already, for £1,000! This bursary was for career progression because the placement is going to boost my confidence, widen my knowledge, and look good on my CV.
I got this last bursary by putting together a statement of the aims I have for my time in Tanzania, and why I'm passionate about taking this placement. It felt so great to accept it!
To help raise money through contacting other organisations and companies, my husband built me a website, and is currently acting as my ‘project administrator’! Luckily he really enjoys this sort of thing, so I only stood to win out of it! Through it, I've received goods to the value of £200 from Sports Direct! All we asked for was a pair of trainers, but they came back and said ‘actually, we’d like to do better than that. We’d like to offer you £200 to spend in a store local to you.’ I got given a hold-all, snorkel and mask, lots of running tops, trainers; I was gobsmacked!
I didn’t think I was going to be able to take it all over, but the airline I’m flying with have given me an extra 5 kilos of luggage allowance on my way out. I’ve got things like gloves for the hospital, a brand new stethoscope, and more.
Do you have any plans for travelling on your weekends?
Yes, I’ve planned to go on safari one weekend, and the other I’m thinking of going over to Zanzibar. It’s going to be a once in a lifetime chance, so I’ve got to! My husband’s more than a little bit cheesed off!
If you’ll indulge us, would you mind talking about your experience with us so far? I appreciate you haven’t been on the trip yet, but it would be good to know how we’re doing!
This ship ain’t sinking, let’s put it that way! Having all the prep work is done for me has given me so much more time to go and fundraise. It’s taken away any worry and given me so much peace of mind.