I’ve been volunteering for just over four years, this was a speech I gave at the 2016 Annual general meeting (AGM).
One of the things that appealed to me when deciding to become a volunteer was being able to use my lived experience to benefit myself and others and the importance placed on the voice of service users. I’d been a group member in the Peer Support groups for a while but had never considered or planned to get involved in mental health in any capacity other than being a service user or patient, before joining the groups I’d never seen any benefit to having a mental health problem after all my experience had just brought me trauma, disappointment and more prescriptions for psychiatric medication than I can count.
Over the past four years I’ve progressed as a volunteer across different projects and areas of the charity and have used my lived experience as a Peer Support Volunteer, Youth Wellbeing Volunteer and by becoming more active with service user involvement being able to speak on behalf of people with mental health problems in the area. I’ve been a part of the local crisis concordat group for a year now looking at the way crisis services are delivered and how they can be improved I’ve also attended the changing minds festival at the Southbank centre, been part or research into unmet needs in the borough and sat on a panel talking about mental health and art.
Service user involvement is often under-represented and many people don’t realise that their views and opinions are not just important but needed and aren’t aware that these opportunities to talk about their lives exist. People with experience of mental health problems and those who have used services whether NHS, charity or support groups are known as experts by experience for good reason because no one knows us or our needs better than we do something which goes for everyone not just people with a mental health problem or a certain diagnosis.
Another project I’ve been working with is the mental health awareness workshops with the volunteer coordinator, this is a training programme offered to organisations wishing to boost levels of mental health awareness in their workplace. So far I’ve told my personal story to two groups of people with English as an additional language many of whom also struggle with their own mental health difficulties and were able to discuss this after I talked about my problems.
I was recently described as “very articulate” and told I could “probably talk my way out of any situation” aside from possibly being the best description of me ever it’s what motivates me to continue to do the things I do. In January I’ll be co-delivering part of the mental health awareness training and talking about myths and misconceptions surrounding mental health and I plan to use my skills to raise awareness and do what I can to improve and influence mental health services not just for my benefit but for the benefit of all the people who aren’t able to be as involved as I am. On the days where my mental health is getting me down or I feel angry and frustrated because of my issues I try to think of all the things I’ve done over the past few years the experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met none of which would have happened if I didn’t have a mental health problem.