Advice, Experience

How Volunteering Can Help Improve your Mental Health

After quitting my job, I decide that I was going to use my time out of employment to not only work on my mental health but to try and help others. Volunteering allows me to do both at the same time. It is so rewarding for both the cause you are helping, and for your mental wellbeing.  I wanted to not only share this message, but prove it. So, I set myself the challenge to complete almost 100 hours of volunteering my free time.

A few people have asked me about how I am working towards this goal and how they can find their own experiences, so hopefully this blog will be useful!

Why Should I Volunteer?

  • It can help grow your confidence, without that pressure of having to perform to a certain level. Volunteering allows you to build your self-esteem and confidence, within a community of people in the mindset of helping others.
  • It can give you a routine, a purpose, a reason to get dressed, and some much-needed social time on days where you need that little push.
  • Equally, as you’re not tied to a weekly contract, you can take breaks. With a mental illness every day is different and sometimes you may not want to leave the house. With volunteering, you can plan your schedule and give yourself a self-care day off every now and then.
  • This flexibility also means that volunteering isn’t just for those who are free during weekdays. You can volunteer for a few hours over the weekend or one morning/evening a week. There are some organisations that even need people to do some writing for them, or a bit of online admin that you can do behind your laptop at home.
  • It gives you that wonderful glow of making a difference. You are giving up your free time to help others – there is no better feeling.
  • You are learning and developing new skills – as well as communication skills, you may be volunteering in an environment that will develop your work and life skills. Nowadays people are often told they have to gain work experience before they can actually gain work experience, and volunteering can be a great way to do this.img_5196

My Experiences

There is an assumption that volunteering just involves working in a charity shop. Although this is an option, it is not the only option. There are thousands of volunteering opportunities. I have just experienced a few so far on my journey:

Anxiety UK

I am not trying to sound over dramatic when I say the day I spent volunteering at Anxiety UK was the best day I’ve had in a while. Not only was the atmosphere friendly and welcoming, but the volunteers I shadowed seemed well supported and cared for. One particular volunteer had been there for almost 10 years and said it was the best thing she decided to do. Anxiety U.K. offer a helpline information service – via telephone, email and online chat service. Through this, they advise people how their services can help them cope with their specific situation. This can be self-help techniques, such as reading books sold through their website (including audio books), or CBT therapy sessions at low price.

As a sister, I often worry about my brothers, but I can’t imagine the sleepless nights parents must encounter worrying about their children. One thing I could take away from this day is that there are a lot of worried parents out there who just want to help but don’t know how. I found the experience moving and came away rather emotional. What a way to spend a day. Not only did I learn new techniques to help with anxiety I learnt new things about myself.

The Dandelion Community

Everyone knows everyone in this Christian church community. Every Monday 11am – 2pm the church runs a Food Bank for those who are in need and have been allocated vouchers. The community used to run The Tree of Life at this church but with its popularity it moved locations a few years back. With this local option it does mean there are fewer people coming to the church for the food bank. However, if there is free time the elders of the church tend to use it to prepare for the week ahead. They often have people from the community visiting during the lunch hour and provide tea and biscuits.

At first I was slightly anxious about starting this volunteer placement as I am not, nor have I ever been religious. However, I was welcomed with open arms and I loved the experience.

The British Heart Foundation

I have set myself a goal to walk at least 100 miles over the summer months to raise money for The British Heart Foundation with their Just Walk campaign. I have always enjoyed walking, particularly with music or with others. Walking is a fantastic recovery technique and is often an easier way of opening us for those who do not find a counselling face-to-face environment an easy place to open up. If you wish to donate you can visit my page here.

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Oxfam

I have been volunteering at the local Oxfam store in Didsbury, Manchester. There are lots of opportunities here to develop confidence and communication skills. I often find myself in the books section – I just love organising books in the correct order- don’t judge. I regularly volunteer at least 3/4 hours a week and enjoy working with the other volunteers who have been very welcoming.

 

Makants Greyhound Rescue Farm

Walking alone can be difficult, so I have found in the past walking a friend’s dog can be soothing. So, I was thrilled to find out that you can volunteer at a local shelter and walk the dogs there. The dogs have a lovely walk and so do you. Everyone wins! Fellow volunteer Becky said that she finds it clears her mind when she walks with a dog, that she has a distraction- and I definitely agree.

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Next month I am set to volunteer with Help the Heroes, Samaritans, Coffee4Craig and a local Contact Centre. (Keep an eye out on our Twitter page for further updates!)

How Do You Find Volunteering Experiences?

There are lots of charities and organisations desperate for people to donate their time, and there’s multiple ways you can go about finding the best place for you. You might want to follow your interests or do an activity you are good at, or you might just want to find something as close to you a possible.  You can approach charities directly, or websites such as Do-it.org provide a database of UK volunteering opportunities, allowing you to search more than a million volunteering opportunities by interest, activity or location.

Once you have selected the place you want to volunteer, sign-up can vary depending on their process. Some prefer you to come in for a chat first and then organise the paperwork, some may prefer you to apply online and then come in after references have been carried out. They usually specify on their website or will make this clear to you if you enquire.

You will typically need two character references – this doesn’t have to be past employers but cannot be family members. I tend to use old colleagues/course mates who I am still in contact with or family friends. Don’t be too put off by this, it’s just a way of them finding out what you are like – I’m sure you are amaze and will slay that role (apologies, I have been watching too much RuPauls Drag Race).

BONUS TIP: Did you know if you are aged 11 – 30 the Princes’ Trust offer help with employment? They provide programmes, placements and work experience to help young people find their confidence in a working role.

Volunteering will help you develop your confidence, build a routine, open doors and give you that extra bit of experience, and ultimately help you get back to being you. I couldn’t recommend it more.

Good luck with your volunteering experiences – please let me know how you get on!

Emma x

 

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