"The Case for Involving People with Mental Health Problems"
Excerpted from You Cannot Be Serious: A Guide to Involving Volunteers with Mental Health Problems by Sherry Clark, © 2003, London: The National Centre for Volunteering (now known as Volunteering England)
There's a common argument against the involvement of people with mental health problems that goes something like this: 'You cannot be serious! How do you think we can fit people like that into our organisation? First and foremost, we have a service to deliver. We don't have the resources - not the time, nor the money, nor the people - to support people who have a lot of problems themselves.' Whether you respond better to the carrot or the stick, there are good reasons for engaging volunteers with experience of mental ill health in your organisation.
The carrot approach
1. It could happen to you
Mental illness affects 25 percent of the population. That's one in four of us, regardless of age, income, education or ethnicity. Your person 'with a lot of problems' might also be last year's winner of £7.8 million in the National Lottery, a pop star, a retired policeman, or the ex-director of a large multi-national who's just been made redundant after 20 years of valuable business experience. People who experience mental ill health possess wide-ranging skills, talents, interests and expertise that can benefit both the organisation and the other staff and volunteers.
Important note: Mental illnesses do not affect people all of the time. Many people will simply experience periodic bouts in the same way we all become ill at times.
2. Direct experience counts
The value of 'direct experience' of mental illness should not be under-estimated. People with mental health problems often have a great capacity for empathy and self-awareness - invaluable skills for particular types of volunteering like befriending, facilitating support groups or volunteering in hospital settings.
3. Been there, done that.
Consider the value of a person with first-hand experience of the health and social care system, of dealing with the benefits agency or housing services if your organization functions in a health and social care setting or delivers any sort of advice or advocacy services.
4. Involving service users means service user involvement!
With an increasing emphasis on user involvement, mental health service users will bring added value to organisations looking at user involvement in service evaluation, planning and delivery.
5. Reflecting the local community can boost your credibility - and organisational effectiveness.
Welcoming and adapting practice to be more inclusive to a specific target group has a knock-on effect in the community. If your organisation is seen as more accessible and accepting, it will attract a wider range of people - both as potential volunteers and as potential clients or service users.
6. It makes everybody feel good
Working for inclusion pays big bonuses for staff and volunteers alike. When people see the changes possible - both individually and collectively - and experience the sense of achievement that results from their efforts to support and include people with mental health problems, there's really no better reward._______
Permission is granted for organizations to reprint this excerpt. Reprints must provide full acknowledgment of the source, as cited here:
Excerpted from You Cannot Be Serious: A Guide to Involving Volunteers with Mental Health Problems by Sherry Clark, © 2003, London: The National Centre for Volunteering (now known as Volunteering England). Available in the Energize Online Bookstore at http://www.energizeinc.com/store/5-222-E-1.