The importance of volunteering
Posted Thursday 1 March 2012
Since I had my breakdown, I always wanted to put back into the system that I took from. I got support from a local Mind for my mental health condition and while seeking help I was able to see first-hand the wonderful work they do.
It wasn’t just me that was sat in the communal area of the local Mind: it was other people with different problems. I would look around the room and see people that were going through a rough time with depression. They were crying and explaining what was going on in their lives to this person. A person that you instinctively knew wasn’t there as a service user and wasn’t a member of staff, but someone who had spare some of their time to help other people.
I got talking to this person and they told me that they were a volunteer and that they gave one day a week helping out at the centre. She said that she never wanted any recognition for the help she does as all she looks for to make herself feel wanted or needed there is to know that she has helped someone in need. She never sought approval, acknowledgement or gratitude. How selfless is that?
So when I managed to get a roof over my head and was well enough to, I approached my new local Mind to offer some of my time for those who maybe going through similar to myself, whether this be mental health, addiction or homelessness – as these needs were supported here. I never wanted recognition. I never wanted praise. All I ever craved was to put a smile on someone’s face at the end of each day.
That addiction grew more and more, it was self-gratification which I never saw as a bad thing. People knew that they could approach me as and when they needed simply a shoulder to cry on, to get ideas on how to handle a situation or to help them play bingo on a Wednesday lunch time.
Then Christmas came along and you could see the levels of despair grow as it was the time of year where everyone is meant to be happy, joyful, be grateful for the things they have in life and spend time with their loved ones. Not everyone can enjoy Christmas though. It could be a time where bad memories are found or they do not feel that they are entitled to celebrate the occasion as they don’t deserve to, due to low self-esteem and self-worth.
So when volunteers would come and spend time at the centre to make Christmas more bearable it was greatly appreciated. They would come and arrange a Christmas party, bingo, raffle, meal out and the main highlight was the Christmas Day meal that was specially prepared for the service users who either had no family, didn’t want to be alone or felt as though Mind was their family.
The meal was fantastic with three courses, sparkling juices, crackers, music, cakes and chocolates – they were in their element. To me it felt like home, like Mind was my family, so I can only imagine how the service users felt. Then to top the day off, more than a handful of people could be heard snoring around the room – just like home.
Then the New Year arrived and the volunteers went about their own business or went back to work. The time that they spent at the centre was appreciated by all and friendships had been made – the impact was amazing. The regular rota of volunteers was back up and running and services fell back into place. The start of a new year sometimes doesn’t mean anything to the service users – it’s just another day.
Though there is something that can be said for the impact that the volunteers made over the Christmas period. Their time, effort, thoughts, involvement, smiles, hugs and bonds are something that is needed all year round as mental health isn’t just for Christmas.
A majority of the volunteers that came to help out over the Christmas period, and also the permanent volunteers throughout the year, all come from a background of mental health themselves. They either have a mental health condition themselves; or a family member or a friend has a condition. By helping others it can be therapeutic to someone in distress as it takes their mind of their pain and suffering, and makes them feel valued and wanted. In the long term, this feeling of gratitude can be rewarding and help with their own wellbeing and recovery.
Someone with mental health problems can fall ill at any time and require a smile or a hug even in the midst of summer and the bright days it brings. If you can spare time throughout the year, please volunteer. Even if all you can spare is a couple of hours – those two hours can make such a difference to a person’s life. You could also make someone smile.
You can follow Tracey's experiences of living with a mood disorder on her blog.
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