For those of you who may not be aware, June 1st-7th is National Volunteers’ Week in the UK. This is an event set up specifically with the aim of celebrating the achievements of those who volunteer, raising the profiles of the organisations who need volunteers, and encouraging those who have never volunteered before to give it a try.
Volunteering is something I had always wanted to do, but with school, college, and then university taking up so much time- not to mention my anxiety disorder making new experiences incredibly frightening for me- I always avoided the chance to get involved.
However, after finishing my Master’s degree I found I had a lot of free time. After admitting that my anxiety made it difficult for me to try new things, Mind was suggested. Being somebody who suffers from mental illness, I’d obviously heard of it, and I knew of its reputation as a great place for support. So, I bit the bullet, researched opportunities, and soon enquired about joining their anti-stigma group.
As the title suggests, this is a group with my local Mind branch that meets regularly to discuss and implement ways of reducing the stigma around mental health. This includes encouraging more people to open up, reaching out to employers, and getting involved with local and nationwide events relating to mental illness.
I was terrified before attending my first meeting. Would I have to speak? What if I embarrassed myself by saying something stupid? How would I manage in a room full of people I’d never met before? Thankfully there was nothing to worry about. Not only was everybody welcoming, but there was no pressure to talk if you were too nervous to do so. It was a great experience, and one of the few things I do that I actually look forward to, instead of dread for days beforehand.
So, now I’m a volunteer, here is why I love volunteering, and some tips so you can get involved too!
- Look into organisations that relate to things you care about. Obviously every charity works towards a worthwhile cause, but I find that I’m much more invested when what I’m working on relates to my own experiences. This means I can generate ideas based on things I’ve actually gone through myself, and I can connect with the other volunteers much easier because we all understand what it’s like to suffer from mental illness. I’ve already met some great people, all inspiring in their own ways, who suffer from similar things, and so are easier to talk to about certain topics.
- Volunteering is a great way to build up your own confidence and self-esteem. There are so many chances to get involved, and you can do as much or as little as you want. When I first got involved I promised myself that I would force myself out of my comfort zone, and say yes to things I would normally shy away from. Just a couple of weeks ago I sat with the group while being filmed by Tyne Tees News, and a few days ago I sat (on my own!) in front of a camera and talked about why I enjoy volunteering so much.
- Opportunities like those in the above point are great to put on your CV and applications! It shows that you care about particular causes and issues, and that you can get involved with things of your own volition, and not just because of the paycheck at the end of the month. It can boost your career, and give you some fantastic skills depending on the opportunities available. There are often chances to gain extra qualifications and certifications, which can also enhance your CV and really make you stand out from the crowd.
- You meet fantastic people. If you volunteer for something that relates to your own experience, you’ll soon have validation of your feelings, because you’ll be surrounded by those who have gone through the same thing.
- There is no pressure. Obviously it’s wonderful if you can be available for everything, but this isn’t always possible. There is complete understanding that sometimes things come up, and that’s okay!
- You can make a difference. Stigma is still a really significant issue in the conversations around mental health, and to know that we’re helping to break down those walls, and correct any misconceptions that people have about speaking out, is a fantastic feeling. No matter which charity or organisation you choose, you will always be making a difference to somebody!
So if you have some spare time now that summer is finally getting underway, take some time to research the groups and organisations in your local area. They’re always looking for more volunteers, and you’ll have a fantastic time while gaining invaluable experience. Give it a try!