Helen Bussey: Thoughts of a mental health volunteer

National Volunteers’ Week 2019 ran from June 1-7 and was a chance to say ‘thank you’ for the fantastic contributions that our volunteers make, and to highlight the importance of volunteering.

A volunteer is a person who does something, especially for other people or for an organisation, willingly and without being forced or paid to do it.

That sums up what volunteering for Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (LPFT) is about. I volunteer as part of the Lincolnshire Recovery College, very willingly and never paid (not financially but certainly in coffee and job satisfaction).

I have often volunteered during my life, doing various things as a teenager, then as my children started school. Years later I worked in schools, supporting young people with special needs accessing mainstream education. Sadly, five years ago I had to retire early on mental health grounds, which was a bitter blow – I loved my job (and I loathed daytime TV).

However, at around the same time, the Recovery College was launched by LPFT. I took the little confidence I had and met the co-ordinator to sign up for some courses and to ask about volunteering. I was nervous, couldn’t sit still, couldn’t think, and wondered what she thought of me!

I met LPFT’s volunteer co-ordinator who welcomed my offer – this was somewhere I could use my own life experience. I felt valued again; I still had something worthwhile to offer. It was a boost to my wellbeing to have that feeling.

I began taking the courses as a student at first, struggling occasionally as I was still vulnerable, but gaining more confidence and learning what the Recovery College was about. Their values of “Hope, Control and Opportunity” sit very well with my own values so it’s easy to promote something I believe in.

The staff have always treated me and my fellow volunteers as part of their team, and homed in on our different skills and abilities.

Most of the people who work for, or volunteer for the Recovery College have lived experience of mental ill-health, or enduring mental illness. This enables us to develop a rapport with our students as we “get it”. I could never say I understand, as everyone’s experience is different, but having my own illness and being able to role model my “wellness” is part of why I volunteer. I can show students that I live well with bipolar disorder. I don’t consider that I “suffer” from it. I may have periods when I am not well, but generally I live an ordinary life.

There is no such thing as an “average” day at the Recovery College. I usually support the trainers who are delivering the courses by welcoming students, checking they have everything they need to access courses and being around if a student needs support, be that with their learning, or emotionally. The College is an education service, not counselling, but a walk outside, a tissue and a listening ear is often appreciated.

I help design and develop some of the courses, using my experience of life with mental illness, do some admin tasks, and co-deliver the “Understanding Bipolar” course.

I volunteer because it gives me a great sense of purpose, an amazing feeling of job satisfaction and I get to work with, and meet some wonderful people.

If you are thinking of volunteering with LPFT, take whatever confidence you have and contact the volunteer co-ordinator. You will be welcomed and feel valued. There are many different volunteer roles within the Trust – there is something for everyone, from arts and crafts, social support groups, physical activities and much more.

To find out more about volunteering with the trust, please contact the service on [email protected] or visit the website here.