Did you know that volunteering for a charity can improve your mental health while helping others?
Some years ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD, following a difficult time in my life. I was offered support via my Health Visitor by Home-Start Royston & South Cambridgeshire, who support families with young children in crisis. I was to have a volunteer to guide me through the next 9 months, with weekly visits. It felt really strange to have support like this, friendship that did not need to be returned, that wasn’t a statutory social worker, encouraging and helping me to find my way through it. It was life-changing.
I always said one day I would do the same for others.
The charity needed marketing help, and I set up a Marketing Sub Committee with their Board and subsequently became a Trustee, which I did for several years.
However, I really wanted to volunteer directly with families, and offer the help I had, but I had to wait until I was mentally able to offer that. I trained to be a family volunteer back in 2015.
The course was an amazing journey in itself, with excellent training, showing us the best ways we can support families who might have mental health issues, face poverty, have children with disabilities, family isolation and breakdown, intervention from statutory agencies that need support, housing issues, domestic abuse or substance abuse recovery, and often a combination of these.
Volunteers are trained to sensitively handle these, professionally and within the realms of the usual safeguarding of families at the heart. We have professional training, support, policies and procedures which protect the volunteer, and help the family understand our boundaries.
I am currently supporting my third family in crisis. I visit them every Friday, I have 1:1 supervision, reviews and peer to peer support. The families I have supported have turned situations around including:
- Undiagnosed severe developmental delay in a pre-school child, now assessed and at special school (the parents’ preference)
- Moving to appropriate, new and accessible housing
- A mother approaching mental health crisis, was able to mend the relationship with her own mother, and thereby get some time back to ‘be herself’ and not just be a carer for her daughter.
- A mum was able to encourage her husband to discuss different holiday arrangements with his employer as they had a disabled daughter. The employer was incredibly supportive, but hadn’t known the issues, and the parents didn’t know what might be possible.
- Complex issues of blended families have been helped through brainstorming how to improve communications with adult step-children, leading to a cleared-up kitchen by my next visit (although I have less success in my own home!), and by the final visit, moving into their own home themselves.
It is such an honour to be part of change. And it’s brought me full circle. I feel having been through crisis myself, I can give hope to others. Seeing people get through these challenges is incredibly rewarding too. I know it won’t always happen, but with every family we do make quantifiable change. When you have had a big crisis, it is in some ways a part of who you are, and there are times it will always be difficult. But volunteering has helped me deal with this too, and I see how others are coping, and that too helps.
Volunteering has given me both the strength and skills to think that actually, I CAN make a change.
*Name has been been changed