For Marion West, a volunteer at Health in Mind’s Information Resource Centre and Rediscover Befriending Service, volunteering has been a “life-changing” experience. “I had been out of work for quite a long time with mental ill health and my occupational therapist (OT) suggested that volunteering would be a great way to re-integrate me in to society. I was quite frightened at first by the idea but I was willing to do anything that would help with my recovery. I was completely lacking in confidence and self-esteem and didn’t see myself as having many skills but I was encouraged me to think about what I could do.
Marion explains her role: “For the Information Resource Centre my job is to maintain and update the resources we have by doing internet research and re-cataloguing the library. We have lots of books and self-help materials related to wellbeing and recovery which clients and professionals can access by booking an appointment or coming in to one of our regular drop-in sessions. We also re-direct people to our website and other useful resources. Although my supervisor checks in with me from time to time I am completely trusted to organise the resources as I see fit. There is tremendous camaraderie and mutual support among our team of volunteers, all of whom have an interest in mental health and love what we do. One of the highlights for me was receiving a personal letter of thanks from someone who had used the service to say how helpful I had been.”
Within the Rediscover Befriending Service Marion is first point of contact for inquiries from prospective volunteers. “I give them the right application form and guidance on how to fill it in. The staff have shown their faith in me to do a good job by giving me sole responsibility for this task. I feel very protective of new volunteers who come in. I feel like I’m handling a basket of chicks which I have to keep corralled and motivated till the next training course starts. Once trained, I then hand them over and they’re off befriending. Recently I had a chat with a former user of the service who then felt ready to volunteer as a befriender. It is very rewarding to see people grow.”
But it hasn’t all been plain-sailing. “When I started I felt very intimidated about just going in to the building. For the first 6 months I actually felt sick because I was so nervous about what I was going to come up against. But gradually, as my health and confidence improved, I overcame that. Everyone here is so friendly and welcoming when I come in. Learning how to operate the equipment can be intimidating too. We have an enormous copier/scanner that has so many buttons you don’t know where to start. But there is always someone who can help.
For Marion the benefits of volunteering far outweigh the challenges. “It has given me a structure to the week. There would otherwise still be times when I’d feel I had nothing to get up for. That is why it is so great they are willing to have me here four part days a week. My confidence has improved massively, as well as my IT skills. I have more self-belief and my friends all notice a change in me. Now I am willing to go out and socialise at night because I can talk about my day. I have also made some wonderful new friends through Health in Mind. Volunteering isn’t just about helping others. You are giving yourself an opportunity for personal growth and to meet people you otherwise would not.” Marion’s hard work and positive attitude earned her an Inspiring Volunteer Award from the Lord Provost last year.