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Why you should volunteer in Mental Health Care

Written by Peter Flexman, Volunteer Co-ordinator 

I am writing today’s blog to mark Volunteers Week, which is held every year from 1st-7th June. As volunteer co-ordinator, my main intention was to highlight the time, enthusiasm, and support provided by our volunteers and to say thank you. 

Also, I have first-hand experience of how volunteering can benefit people, and wanted to encourage anyone reading to consider volunteering

To say I am an advocate for volunteering would be an understatement. Without it, I would have missed an opportunity to work with a great bunch of people, many of whom I now call friends, within a sector that means a lot to me, and learn a completely new skillset. 

Prior to volunteering at HFEH Mind, I was at a low point in my life. Due to anxiety issues, I had been unemployed for six years and was living with my parents. I had become a hermit. During this period, I had nothing to look forward to or get up for in the morning. I had withdrawn from seeing friends and had lost my personality, as I no longer needed it. 

For me, it all started during the pandemic. Organisations that had previously depended on staff attending their offices, had to pivot to working remotely. This was a great help for me, I needed structure to my life and more opportunities were becoming available to work from home. 

My experience volunteering with HFEH Mind

I can still remember seeing a volunteering advert for HFEH Mind on the charity jobs website. An opportunity to work within a sector that I had almost no experience in (apart from lived), to gain valuable experience and training.  More importantly, it would provide me a structure for at least one day a week.  It was a win win.  I applied, got the role, and never looked back.

Of course, there have been many challenges in this journey and it wasn’t always easy. After six years of unemployment, I didn’t have some of the skills I needed, and lacked confidence. Once I started, I realised that HFEH Mind were serious in investing their time and money into volunteers. They were going to treat us like fully fledged members of staff.  I needed to buck my ideas up if I was going to benefit from this great opportunity. I was being invited to meetings, I had training to complete and was given the unique opportunity of deciding what service I would like to volunteer for. For me, this was a journey, not something I would take lightly. I wanted to contribute, and make a real difference. 

Throughout this process, I was superbly managed by our Volunteer Co-ordinator at that time: Rachel O’Shea. She made volunteering at HFEH Mind easier for me.  I remember in our first meeting, I asked her ‘what are these ticks on outlook and why does everyone keep inviting me to go on holiday with them?’

When I was last in employment, calendar management like this was not a thing you had to do. Other systems like Slack and Teams were similarly alien to me. I had a lot to learn. On the first week, Rachel sent me an email to breakdown where I was meant to be and what I was attending for. This along with the on-going support from staff in Adult Services, in particular team members and management from my service, Know My Mind, and our last volunteer co-ordinator, Zoe, was all the support I needed.

Benefits of volunteering in mental health care

Volunteering also provided me an opportunity to communicate with people again.  I had lost the art of conversation and being around others. When I first started volunteering, I was an absolute shadow of the person I am now, I was quiet and uncomfortable speaking to others. However, working in a united team, meeting new people, and supporting service-users gave me confidence. 

HFEH Mind welcomes volunteer applications from anyone. This is a route myself and others have successfully taken, allowing us to learn new skills and gain experience.  Previous volunteers who I have had the pleasure to work with have been employed for roles in other organisations and mentioned their volunteer experience was invaluable when submitting application forms and attending interviews. I myself started as a volunteer, and am now a paid member of staff.

In my current role, I now have the privilege of supervising our volunteers at HFEH Mind. Our volunteers offer their own time for at least one day a week, providing our organisation with their select skill-set and support.  All of them have taken onboard our vision and support their teams and service-users to the best of their ability.

Also, our volunteers are willing to evolve like us as an organisation, and actively train where necessary to improve their skills, as well as keeping up with new policies and procedures. Every time I supervise one of our volunteers, I ask for feedback from their service and I have never received anything other than praise. I couldn’t be more proud. It is an absolute pleasure to have volunteers as a part of our organisation, and we simply couldn’t do the work we do without them. From myself, our CEO Benn, and everyone on the HFEH Mind team, we say thank you to our wonderful volunteers. 

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Posted on: 7th June 2022

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