What is your volunteer role at MindOut?
I am a Peer Mentor, which means I support and listen to someone who may be struggling with their day to day life for various reasons. I have also helped out with the Befriending service which aims to combat loneliness and provide a lifeline over the telephone which is particularly valuable in this pandemic where people can feel very isolated.
When did you start volunteering?
I started at the beginning of 2019 and since then I’ve had the opportunity of meeting and mentoring some great people.
What inspired you to volunteer for MindOut?
Growing up I struggled with my mental health and I didn’t feel I had anyone to talk to about my feelings or anywhere to go that would listen to me without judging. I had severe depression for many years and struggled with therapists to tell them what I was feeling and who I really was because I was so ashamed. It wasn’t until many years later when I started seeing an LGBTQ therapist who became a positive role model to me that I started to feel better about myself. Knowing what depression was like and being gay I wanted to be able to offer some assistance to other gay men struggling with day to day life but I also wanted to do it in an environment that felt totally safe and inclusive. Volunteering for MindOut provided an opportunity to do that.
How would you describe MindOut’s volunteer training?
The training was great and covered all the areas you needed to know particularly around safeguarding yourself and your mentee as well as Government regulations, terminology and also providing an opportunity to ask any questions you may have. Current volunteers came in and gave you an insight on what they have experienced doing the role which was very useful. It was also a great opportunity to get to know some of the staff and your fellow volunteers.
What is most rewarding about volunteering for you?
For me it is incredibly rewarding to see a mentee’s confidence grow over the weeks you are mentoring with them and also to see their mental health improve. Each mentee has a different set of goals so your relationship is different with each person. One person might be looking to get to the gym once a week and just needs a bit of a confidence to help with that or it could be they just want a chat or help with their CV. Talking is so vital when your mental health is suffering so to be able to just listen to someone’s challenges and potentially help in some small way is a privilege. It’s just such a great service and really appreciated by the service users.
Is having a shared lived experience of being LGBTQ/having mental health challenges important to you?
To me this is key – the people you are mentoring know that you have been through a similar experience to them and I think that really helps lower any barriers that might have normally existed in this sort of role. It makes it easier for someone to talk to you if they know you have such shared experiences. Every mentee is met with empathy and a strong desire to help them in whatever way they need.
How has volunteering online been for you during lockdown?
It’s ironic that at a time when everyone’s mental health is suffering more than ever that the crucial oneto one in person experience had to understandably be shelved. However MindOut stepped up and initiated zoom calls as well as the telephone Befriending service. I was worried that starting with someone new on Zoom would make it harder to connect with them but actually it hasn’t been a problem at all. If a mentee was new to the technology or struggling a bit with it (I know the feeling!) then someone from MindOut could facilitate the call so the sessions could go ahead. For some who might be struggling to leave the house for various reasons the technology has provided a vital lifeline. Personally though I am really looking forward to returning to face to face sessions if that is what the mentee wants.
Do you feel that you’ve grown as a person through volunteering?
Definitely – after years of seeking out help myself it has been strange being on the other side of the equation so to speak. It shows you the power of listening and how giving a small amount of time can make such a difference to someone’s life. Volunteering has also been great for my own confidence especially when the mentees tell you that you’ve helped them in some way and you see their self-esteem and mental health improve. I have connected with the LGBTQ+ community really for the first time in my life and it has made me feel so much more at peace with who I am. Hearing about other people’s lives and mental health issues has made me reflect on my own life and allowed me to be a bit kinder to myself about my own history. In fact volunteering has led me to start a counselling qualification (I’m now in my second year) which has also helped me understand more about myself.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about volunteering for MindOut?
I would say have a chat with the relevant person at MindOut if you have any questions but if not just apply! If you think back to a time when you might have wanted some guidance or a friendly chat with someone then it’s great to be able to volunteer for such a great cause.
Anything else you would like to add about your volunteering experience?
It’s not all just about the mentoring or befriending as other opportunities to help out can come along too. In 2019 I was on the MindOut bus at Brighton Pride which was an incredible experience. When the bus went past the crowds there was an extra cheer so they clearly knew who MindOut were and it shows how the charity has had a far reaching impact in the local community. There are also opportunities to further your knowledge with training on subjects such as suicide awareness, self-harm, anti-racism, discrimination or possibly to get involved in other areas of volunteering within MindOut.