Clem shares how volunteering helped her own mental health

When thrown into the first lockdown last year, I decided to do something I’d been thinking about for a long time. I decided to volunteer at the UK-based mental health charity Woking Mind. I had always felt slightly guilty about not giving back. And as I was running my own mental health blog “Blognitive Therapy”, I thought perhaps I was qualified to help out a bit. I have had my own issues with depression and anxiety in recent years.

The role was to call a few people a week, at a designated time, and have a chat with them for an hour or so. Some people were just lonely and wanted to chat. Others were going through some really rough stuff, especially with the pandemic raging.

Knowing the ravages of poor mental health—and having done so much work on myself—I felt suited to the role of ‘Community Wellbeing Caller’. I thought I could bring some of my own strategies to the fore. The aim was not to make myself feel better, but that was certainly what happened.

Looking Outside of Myself

Honestly, early on I found myself dreading the calls. I didn’t know what to expect. I would arm myself with fact sheets and a notepad, feeling hesitant to dial the number. The fact of my own mental health struggles some days added to this foreboding.

It is sometimes hard to look outside of yourself. We are all dealing with the fallout of not having our usual social outlets. The pandemic has taken something from us all. Day’s can often become an endless game of thinking of all the things you’re missing.

But, in speaking to someone else, we get another perspective. We can feel the truth that others are living. And that can pull focus. We see the world from another perspective. And, sadly, see that other people have it much worse. We don’t want this to be the case, but it does put our qualms into perspective. I may have dreaded making the calls some days. But pushing myself to be there for someone else, even when feeling sorry for myself, created a sense of the bigger picture.

If you are feeling overwhelmed in your own life, often taking the time to ask someone else how they are can lift your from your cyclical thoughts. The simple altruistic act of caring for another is a pathway to a brighter outlook. Of course, we must look out for ourselves, and only take on what we can. But it is often when we dwell on our personal situation that the issues get worse. Helping others can offer fresh perspectives, and you might just find yourself offering advice that could help heal your own wounds.The next time you’re feeling a bit blue, reach out to someone you care for and give it a go.

Creating A Sense Of Community

Often we are so concerned with ourselves, and immediate social groups, we forget that there is a larger community at play. It is little wonder, with the shifting and changing of how we live and work. Rarely do we even get to know our own neighbours. Through volunteering, I grew a sense of the size and scope of the community around me. And found that so many people don’t have family or friends to rely on. Either practically or emotionally. Sometimes it’s not about physical, but emotional closeness.

Whilst I couldn’t go round with supplies, I could offer my attention. Checking in, and reminding them to eat properly, rest well, and drink enough water. Sending them information resources for support and community events. Being a voice for them, an advocate when they require.

In donating my time to a few people each week, for those who might be lonely or need to feel listened to, my eyes were opened. It gave me a greater sense of how to listen and communicate. What suggestions to offer and when. How to navigate difficult subjects. In the main, I’ve developed a better way of talking to people. Even in my own relationships. Which brings me on to my next point.

Helping With Personal Relationships

When you sign up for a role like this, they don’t just drop you in. You get training.You are taught how to build on hard conversations, how to be gentle with the client. You are signposted to better ways to approach difficult questions and subjects. Whether that be matters of suicide, depression or anxiety.  And a lot of this is through something called ‘Active Listening’ but this gives excellent tools for other areas. And can make communication in your personal life a little easier.

It also helped me to articulate my own thought and feelings in a better way. And I have felt the changes in my own relationships, with friends and family. Again, helping other people through tough times brings an alternative viewpoint. It also offers training in greater understanding. Of nurturing them with patience and seeking clarity. You stop trying to get your own point across, and you learn to really listen and respond to the other person. And this is something that can be sadly lacking in our personal relationships. As we feel so desperate to get our own thoughts or feelings across. We can change this though. And you needn’t have to volunteer to understand the process. Simply learn the simple process of active listening, and you will learn how to have better conversations that are resolved more fully. And all it involves is listening more, rather than waiting to speak.

Generating A Sense Of Power

Just the simple act of helping other people can help with your own sense of power. It can make you feel the power you have with assisting change. It is grass-roots, I’ll give you that. But as Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

If we all worried less about the things we’re powerless against, and focus more on what we have the power to do, things could be so different. And we all have the power to make someone’s day a little brighter.

As I said, some days I’ve dreaded making calls. I can start conversations feeling tired or a little low, but always find talking to (and helping) someone else has the power make me feel better. And hearing the change in their voice—from flat dull, to lighter and brighter—that makes a huge difference.