Volunteering and mental health

On average, 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health issue in the course of a year. However, of these, only a relatively small number will be diagnosed with a serious and enduring mental health problem.

Volunteering has been shown to be beneficial to the mental health of individuals.  It can improve overall mental health and also help to protect from mental health problems.

The Mental Health Foundation lists the following as someof the benefits of volunteering:

  • It provides structure and routine
  • It can help people feel good about themselves
  • It can improve feelings of self-esteem
  • It provides opportunities to make friends and take part in social activities
  • It can provide learning opportunitie,s which can protect mental health

Involving volunteers with mental health problems

Supporting a volunteer with a mental health issue mostly follows the same methods of good practice as in all volunteer management. Here are some tips:

  • Do provide access to information around benefits - often people are on disability benefits and a move into volunteering can cause anxiety around this.
  • Do build links with employment and training providers that might help people with training and support in areas like self confidence, assertiveness, basic administration and IT skills. Many people with mental health issues will have been out of the work place for a while, and/or had their career and education interrupted. Often there are projects and services out there which can help with this.
  • Do keep in touch with people waiting to start volunteering (e.g. waiting for DBS checks). It can take a while for people to build themselves up to volunteering and a long wait can make people feel unwanted and rejected. As a result, their interests and well being can change. Organising a social event, such as a regular coffee morning, keeps motivation and interest going, as well as being an informal way of building up contact with people who might not yet be ready volunteer.
  • Do be available to people and be flexible in how people can access support
  • Do make sure that everyone in your organisation has an awareness and understanding of mental health and provide opportunities to address issues of stigma and discrimination
  • Do have a sensitive but open conversation with the person about their mental health support needs. Include things like:
  • What impact this might have on their work and the adjustments they might need (e.g. for some people, medication may make early morning starts difficult).
  • Plans about what to do if someone becomes unwell, e.g. keeping the placement open for a period and ways to keep in touch etc.
  • Discuss disclosure (i.e. what they want other staff and volunteers to know) and respect this decision.
  • Do get a newsletter or bulletin going. This works on many levels:
  • You can advertise opportunities; showing the range of volunteering roles out there and challenging myths about what volunteering can be.
  • You can reach out to and involve current volunteers; providing an opportunity for people to share their experiences - good, bad or indifferent.
  • It reaches people who aren't quite ready to join in, and for them to read about others who've faced similar circumstances and experiences and overcome them or stuck with it despite the challenges, can encourage others to take that first step.
  • Producing the newsletter creates enjoyable volunteering roles for people who enjoy writing, art and photography.