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Posted on Jun 13 2022 by Fiona Bailey

Former patient Sarah – who has previously written under the guise Welsh Star – is continuing with her recovery journey. She finds writing useful and to mark Volunteers Week she decided to draft a piece about her personal volunteering experiences.

Reflecting on Volunteers Week I thought it might be apt for me to talk about my own personal experience regarding volunteering and how it benefitted me when I was unwell.

My first experience of just how powerful the volunteering sector can be was years ago, during my very darkest hours mentally. I was surrounded by people in my life, but no one knew I was struggling, which is why the confidential helplines I had started to use became vital to keeping me going. I was able to pick up the phone and speak to real life people who offered empathy, support and guidance. They became my outlet and on several occasions, the stranger on the end of the phone stopped me from harming myself.

As technology has progressed and accessibility requirements have changed, I’m pleased to say that these services have evolved beyond the traditional phone call. Now there are text helplines and apps that are available for those who need it most.

Another positive volunteering experience I’ve had was when I was an inpatient within mental health services. I had progressively become worse and the need for me to be admitted to a hospital had become great.

I was one of the lucky ones because I had family and friends who would regularly visit me. But, family visits could be quite intensive and I found very often I was putting on a brave face to the ones I loved so they did not worry about me.

That is why befriending services – which is a where a volunteer comes to visit a patient – is such a worthwhile and essential service to everyone, even people like me who had visitors. It truly makes all the difference having a visit from a volunteer as there are no expectations, and you can share as much, or as little with that person as you like, while keeping a connection with the outside world.

Volunteers are such an important part of mental health services as, aside from the befriending service, they can bring their dogs in to meet patients as part of pet therapies and they help out at patient events providing much needed stimulation and fun. In a world where resources are already pushed to the limit, we need volunteers to ensure these services are maintained.

When my health significantly improved, I started to think about how I could give something back which is when I began exploring my own volunteering journey.

As part of my rehabilitation, I started working in a charity shop. It was only a few hours a week, but I immediately started feeling the benefits. My role there gave me a sense of independence, responsibility and a purpose. The motivational aspect really empowered me and gave me a sense of direction in life which can so easily be lost when you are an inpatient.

That is where my love for volunteering began and I continue to do it because I have seen first-hand just how a small gesture can make a big difference to someone’s life.