This World Mental Health Day, South London and Maudsley foundation trust is supporting a new initiative to encourage volunteering with VSO.

VSO and Maudsley International are working together so employees of the trust and the Institute of Psychiatry can take a career break to volunteer with VSO in Sri Lanka. Staff who take the opportunity will be able to return to a position at the same or even a higher level than the job they left. Their NHS pension contributions will be covered by a government fund. They will also get the chance to stretch their skills and have their experience recognised on their return to the NHS.

Opportunities will be available for occupational therapists, psychiatric nurses, clinical psychologists and psychiatric social workers with three to five years' experience in community and acute mental health, service development and training or teaching others. There are also placements for managers with at least five years' experience in acute or community mental health and for advocacy or anti-stigma specialists.

Clear need

VSO is one of the few NGOs strengthening holistic mental healthcare and training in Sri Lanka. The country continues to suffer from more than two decades of armed civil conflict, which has so far resulted in 65,000 people being killed and more than 800,000 internally displaced. The resulting mental health needs are great, with Sri Lanka experiencing one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Over the last 10 years, VSO has helped the country's health ministry develop a mental health policy, introduce community mental health services and establish a more social model of treatment.

As we mark World Mental Health Day, the reality is that mental ill-health is still a stigmatised issue. Few recognise the lasting impact of disaster situations, such as the 2004 Asian tsunami, on people's mental health.

Partnerships like our current initiative aim to help recruit and retain dedicated NHS staff and to allow them to develop cross-cultural expertise that directly benefits UK patients. We hope this new partnership will be used as a model for other trusts to encourage staff to gain unique experience of global health.

For more details, go to www.vso.org.uk

World Mental Health Day is October 10. To find out more, go to www.mhf.org.uk