Mental health and breaking down barriers to volunteering

26 September 2019

How to make volunteering more inclusive with Wendy Bates, Chief Executive of Health in Mind.

Health In MindThere can be a number of barriers to volunteering for people with personal experience of mental health difficulties. It’s important for people recruiting volunteering roles to be aware of them and to think about ways their recruitment process and inductions can help to address them.

Potential barriers

  • People can be unsure of when and how to share that they have experienced or are experiencing mental health difficulties, especially if this is not mentioned or asked about in a supportive way during the recruitment process.
  • Volunteers may need regular breaks in their volunteering schedule. They should be able to take time out for a couple of weeks without feeling guilty or that they are letting someone down.
  • Volunteers are often concerned about the possible impact on benefits and PIP assessments. You can provide information about this in promotional materials and volunteer handbooks.
  • Attention to mental health and wellbeing needs to run through the whole organisation. If staff are not supported in their wellbeing, volunteers will pick this up and will feel unable to share their own mental health and wellbeing despite how supportive individual staff are.

Volunteering at Health in Mind

Each year we conduct a Volunteer Satisfaction Survey that helps us to get to know our volunteers, and their motivations for volunteering better. This ensures that our volunteer roles are and remain inclusive to those with personal experience of mental health difficulties.

‘The team at Health in Mind are great. They take the time to listen’

Volunteers with personal experience of mental health difficulties are attracted to roles which offer short ‘shifts’ of one to two hours but once they have connected to the organisation, they remain committed over a long period of time. This also alerts us to the need to ensure volunteers do not become dependent on support from Health in Mind.

‘It's nice to be in a supportive environment’

Volunteers are attracted to Health in Mind because they feel that it is implicit that we will understand mental health and wellbeing. We reinforce this during our assessment process where we ask potential volunteers about their mental health and wellbeing; how they look after their mental health; how we can support this and how we would recognise early warning signs that they are moving away from a place of wellness.

‘I get very good support’

We also offer our volunteers a range of training which focusses on the role as well as on their personal development and mental wellbeing. For example, personal resilience courses and access to Scottish Mental Health First Aid.

‘If it had not been for Health in Mind my life would still be on hold and my health would be worse or I would have thought about my life ending.’

A sense of purpose and leading a meaningful life are key components of mental wellbeing and this is echoed in why volunteers give their time to Health in Mind.

  • 70% of volunteers said that they wanted to give something back
  • 81% wanted to help other people
  • 44% wanted to give their live increased meaning
  • 40% wanted to build their confidence and
  • 32% wanted to share they experience with others.

Being inclusive

I would encourage those recruiting for volunteer roles to review their recruitment and induction processes, thinking about potential barriers that may be in place for people with personal experience of mental health difficulties.

The support and services we provide at Health in Mind are made stronger with the contribution of our volunteers with personal experience of mental health difficulties and I know that this would be the case for other organisations too.

About Health in Mind

Health in Mind is a Scottish charity promoting positive mental health and wellbeing in Scotland.

In Health in Mind, we are passionate about realising the potential of the people using our services; our staff and our volunteers. We have around 110 staff, involve 150 to 200 volunteers and support around 3,000 people every year to make positive differences to their lives.

Our latest volunteer survey can be found here.

The National Inclusion in Volunteering Group coordinated by Volunteer Scotland has produced a series of Top Tips for Inclusion.