“Shaun will be the busiest person at this hospital.”

– Director of National Mental Health Institute at yesterday’s staff meeting

I visited my workplace for the first time yesterday and like most first days it was completely overwhelming.

For the next 18 months I will be working three days per week at Sri Lanka’s National Mental Health Institute located in a town called Angoda, about a 20 minute bus ride from Colombo. Think White City minus the snow and the Ice House Tavern. My other two days will be at the VSO office, where I’ll be working on a mental health anti-stigma campaign and likely doing some hospital work too.

My task at the hospital, as laid out to everyone yesterday at the impromptu staff meeting, is to start a communication/media unit at the hospital. This means setting up a shop that handles all internal, external and media communication for a hospital with over a thousand patients and hundreds of staff. No big deal.

The good (and bad) thing is that I’m starting with a clean slate as no formal communication channels or strategies currently exist. And, the other positive is that they’re assigning me a staff member to help me out and for me to mentor to take over when I leave.

After smothering thoughts to flee the situation, I’m remaining calm. The only way for me to have any level of success is to keep things simple, which thanks to me being a simpleton, is easy to do. Because while the hospital doesn’t have what I would call any formal ways of communicating, they do have an incredibly intricate informal way of communicating done entirely through face-to-face discussions and word of mouth – I didn’t see very many computers or phones yesterday. It’s social media done the old fashioned way.

What I need to do now is become a sponge and soak everything in – right from the director, to the patients, to the groundskeepers. If any of the work I do is going to have any impact, I need to know who these people are and what they connect with.

At the end of the day my job for the next 18 months will be all about story telling and relaying those stories to as many people as possible. That’s as simple, and effective as communication gets.

Here’s a link to the one communication channel I have found, the NIMH website (although it hasn’t been updated in a few years).