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Keeping my mental health on track through volunteering

Laura, who is an Oxfordshire Mind volunteer, blogs about how volunteering and peer support have helped her personal and professional development.

My name is Laura, I am 29, and I have been a volunteer for Oxfordshire Mind for the past 3 years.

I first wanted to start volunteering during my last 6 months of group therapy with the Complex Needs Service, who I spent around 5 years with. I was being helped with my lifelong difficulties associated with trauma and lead to a discovery of my superpower – my personality disorder. I was in intensive group therapy for 16 hours a week and when it came to my last 6 months I wanted to find solutions on how to maintain some structure in my week after being discharged so I wouldn’t relapse with my progress and accomplishments. I wasn’t ready to go back to paid work quite yet as I had a huge amount of fear and was doubtful of how I would cope with the pressure and expectations of others.

“The next step was to use my inner strength and my newly found confidence to take on a volunteering role with Oxfordshire Mind. ”

I wanted to continue to grow and learn about myself, my strengths and weaknesses and pave the path for my future in the working world helping others. I’d been out of work for 6 years due to ill mental health, and researched the services and opportunities that Oxfordshire Mind offered to both their service users, volunteers and existing and potential employees. Originally I wanted to do the Peer Support volunteering role, but the training wasn’t due for a while, and as I had experience working in admin and accounting I didn’t want to miss any opportunity to get my foot in the door with Oxfordshire Mind in the meantime. I was determined, so expressed my interest with the Admin Volunteer role and utilised my previous working experiences. 

I first started my journey as a voluntary HR and Admin Assistant two days a week, originally I was a part of the HR team for 2 and half years with a couple of breaks in between where I needed time away due to a close family bereavement. I never felt under pressure and that was grounding for me and so could come back whenever I felt ready after losing my brother. And so I did after a couple of months with support and signposting from Oxfordshire Mind to services and self-help resources etc.

After some changes to the team, I decided it was time to take on a new challenge, my next steps towards my goal as a Peer Support Worker Trainee within the NHS. I was fully supported and so had no difficulty in carrying out my passion in a potential job – offering hope, and forever grateful that I could do this whilst still being a part of Oxfordshire Mind who I love volunteering for and didn’t want to give up.

I reduced my volunteering to one day a week in a new administrative role as part of the Innovations team. I was welcomed into the team by everyone and found I adapted and settled into my new role very easily, it felt organic and a natural change. I wanted to trust in myself and evolve my abilities without taking on too much responsibility, despite even more tough and painful situations coming along I have always felt supported, understood and never alone by those I have worked with at Oxfordshire Mind.

Feedback has been instrumental in my personal development, and I am shown a lot of appreciation and given such positive comments from my colleagues in both the HR team and the Innovations/Volunteering team. I feel more fulfilled as a person and incredibly supported by the teams. I can give something back to others, am still able to continue working towards a part-time paid role as a Peer Support worker whilst still doing what I love with a wonderful charity and in a fantastic team at Oxfordshire Mind.

My passion for peer support had arisen from my experiences I had in my life and in the therapeutic community at the Complex Needs Service. I learnt that I too deserve happiness and could have a better quality of life, and created this for myself with the support of others and the support of Oxfordshire Mind.

“I am determined to help others see that they too can take back the power and enjoy life-even if it was just a little more than before. Progress is progress no matter how small those changes are. ”

By understanding ourselves better and feeling validated, we are more aware of what is needed to help us better understand and support others, and we too can continue with our own personal development. We are all works in progress, and volunteering has helped me overcome my fears and self-doubt and worthlessness, it has helped me look forward to getting up and getting out of the house whilst obtaining new connections and opportunities. Everyone deserves a chance to feel more content, more hopeful and to feel a genuine happiness, Oxfordshire Mind has been a huge part of this for me and for others.