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A Volunteer's story

26 April 2017

With Mental Health Awareness Week taking place from 8 – 14 May 2017, I thought now would be an appropriate time to write about my experience as a volunteer. Aside from my day job as a commercial graduate, I volunteer for Changes Bristol.

My role involves facilitating a weekly mental health peer support group in, ensuring that the group runs in a way which gives members an opportunity to safely share their personal experiences or concerns regarding any mental health difficulties they are experiencing or have suffered from in the past.

No special skills are needed to be a facilitator, only the willingness to listen and support members by helping create a space where members feel safe to share their feelings and experiences without judgement. I have found that many of the skills I have learned through volunteering, such as active listening and mediation, have also been extremely useful in my day job, especially when communicating and negotiating with suppliers!

Volunteering for Changes Bristol has also given me the opportunity to engage with a diverse range of people with whom I might not have previously associated. Hearing about the range of mental health experiences from those who attend the meetings has also helped me understand how mental health issues impact upon people’s lives and what can be put in place to assist people with mental health issues in the workplace. For example, there are many mental health initiatives in place within the Civil Service, including the Employee Wellbeing Service and regular mental health awareness events.

Becoming a facilitator is not the only way that people volunteer for Changes Bristol. For example, on 3 September 2016, fundraisers, including members of the Civil Service, took place in a Dragon Boat race in Bristol, raising a total of £2926.20 for the charity.

In support of Mental Health Awareness Week, Changes Bristol will be holding an exhibition of work produced by group members on the theme of ‘Surviving or Thriving’, from 8 – 12 May 2017 in the Park Street Vestibule of City Hall, Bristol. The exhibition will be open to the public and aims to inform people of the reality of mental health issues, highlighting the positive achievements of group members despite the mental health challenges they have faced.

The main thing I have taken away from volunteering for Changes Bristol is that mental health doesn’t discriminate – anyone can suffer from mental health issues at any time. This only furthers the need to raise awareness and understanding of mental health issues.