A supportive environment and colleagues you know you can trust aren’t always guaranteed in a work environment, but they’re always available to volunteers.
There are organisations that offer volunteers support and space to talk about anything – whether it’s connected with a volunteer’s role or not. Volunteers are essential to Mind Works. We run an information centre and a mentoring programme for people experiencing mental health problems, as well as their families, friends and carers.
Volunteers often listen to service users who need to talk about issues they’re currently experiencing, which can include thoughts of suicide, worries about loved ones and fears about long-term mental illness. This means that for volunteers, support is essential.
The volunteers’ roles sound tough, and some of the situations they work with are distressing but with one in four adults suffering from a mental health problem at any one time, many of the issues volunteers deal with are close to home.
A caring atmosphere is just one of the many elements of the role that attracts volunteers. The sense of teamwork can bring a real reward. You have to really work as a team: there are no right or wrong answers to the service user’s questions and concerns, volunteers often talk through the issues together and share each other’s ideas.
Developing the life skills required for the role is part of what attracts new volunteers. For example, volunteers for Mind Works based at the Volunteer Centre provide potential volunteers with one to one mentoring and group Life Skills Training to support those experiencing mental health problems.
We do ask for our volunteers to have prior knowledge and personal experience with mental wellbeing and they don’t need any professional experience or training, but they do need listening skills and to be able to project empathy, it’s about connecting with people – being able to be there for them in situations that are difficult and isolating.
Mind Works volunteers are well supported in their roles. As well as receiving training, each volunteer is assigned a mentor and can speak to paid members of staff and experienced volunteers about any difficult situations they come across during their shifts.
Voluntary Action are currently recruiting volunteers for the Mind Works Programme, a new initiative offering Life Skills Training, mentoring, information and advice, a team of voluntary mentors based at the volunteer here in Grimsby. Aimed particularly at those who want to use volunteering as a pathway to mainstream employment. Potential volunteers can be of any age and will receive full training.
Breaking down Barriers
Volunteering can also be a way for former service users to build their confidence and fight the stigma that can still be attached to mental health problems.
Many of Mind Works volunteers are former service users, and we believe that their involvement with the organisation is vital, as they have a unique insight into the mental health system.
There are plenty of other ways of volunteering, depending on your own experience and the way you can commit. Many organisations offer voluntary placements in their offices, helping with administration, and some – including research projects that need input from volunteers.
If you want to be surrounded by interesting people, I’d definitely suggest working or volunteering within mental health, we come across so many different viewpoints on life and it’s never dull.