How can I support volunteers with mental health problems?

Volunteering in sport is good for your mental wellbeing: Join In’s Hidden Diamonds research of 2014 found that people who volunteer in sport have 10% higher self-esteem, emotional wellbeing and resilience than people who have never volunteered. So if you have a volunteer with a mental health problem, the fact they’re volunteering is in itself something that is likely to help them. It’s also possible that you have volunteers at your club who have mental health problems that you’re unaware of, as there is still a stigma associated with talking about it. This is in spite of the fact that mental illness is incredibly common: it’s estimated that one in four people will experience a mental health difficulty in any given year. 

Generalising about mental health is difficult because, like physical health problems, mental health problems vary in their intensity and their duration. Some people may experience them only mildly, while others will experience difficulties that have a huge impact on their day-to-day existence. Some may experience one brief incidence of mental illness, whilst others live their whole lives affected by it. Understanding the nature and severity of an individual’s difficulties will help you understand how you can best support them.

A lot of the things that are considered best practice in volunteer management will be especially helpful to volunteers with mental health problems. These include things like having a buddy or mentor system, clearly defined roles and open communication between volunteers and your organisation.

Time to Change is a national campaign to end stigma and discrimination in mental health. The site has lots of useful information about the impact of mental health problems and tips on what you can do to help people with mental health problems.

See the following links for more information:

Mental Health Foundation - Mental health statistics

Doing Good Leeds - Supporting volunteers experiencing mental health difficulties

Volunteer Centre - Volunteering and mental health

Volunteer Now - Mental health and volunteering checklist

Time to Change - Find out more