What it’s like to be a mental health volunteer during a global pandemic
This blog has been written by James, one of our Shout Volunteers.
We all made plans over Christmas and the New Year for how we would spend 2020 and living through a global pandemic has impacted them all. During that time, I was busy doing the training to become a Shout Volunteer, with no clue what kind of circumstances I’d be volunteering in this year.
I started doing my actual volunteering in January when Covid-19 was still just a story from across the planet on the news and not something that was directly impacting my life or any of the people I talked to while I was on shift.
The role that Shout 85258 and its volunteers play has only become more important as the year has gone on
My first shift went ok, I think I helped the two people I talked to and both my Clinical Supervisor and other volunteers were incredibly welcoming and supportive. After my second shift I could physically feel how much the experience of really helping people who needed mental health support had positively affected me. I felt like I could do anything right then. I’d never felt that way before.
For the first couple of months I was getting comfortable with the platform, learning just how useful the training was and becoming more confident in how to be there for people when they needed someone to talk to.
The role that Shout 85258 and its volunteers play has only become more important as the year has gone on and that’s been evident in the kind of conversations I’ve had since Covid-19 started to dominate everyday life. All of the same reasons people text in have still been there, but often amplified by the circumstances. For example, Shout data shows that around 15% of conversations have been COVID-19-related and 54% of these conversations have had anxiety as an issue.
Loneliness has also been a big factor for people of all ages as they’ve had to cope with being isolated or socially distanced from their friends and families. Sometimes these conversations have been the hardest because in the context of a lockdown situation, there’s no simple solution for being cut off from people. But Shout Volunteers are always there for them to listen and provide non-judgemental support.
One of the challenges I’ve had to get used to as a Shout Volunteer is that we’re not there to solve people’s problems for them, we are there to empower them to find their own solutions and take their next steps to getting longer term support if needed.
This is even more the case right now for people whose lives and jobs have become so much more difficult and even dangerous. Shout Volunteers have been there for frontline staff working for the NHS and in schools and I’ve talked to people struggling with very real fears for their own health and safety and their responsibilities for others.
These fears can be expressed through anger, grief, despair and any number of other emotions and I think I’ve encountered them all while on shift. Like other Shout Volunteers I think I’ve also lived them while on and off shift, because we’re all living through this difficult time.
Around 15% of conversations have been COVID-19-related and 54% of these conversations have had anxiety as an issue.
At times I’ve had to take little breaks from volunteering for my own wellbeing, particularly recently when my family had to isolate for almost a week while we waited for a (negative as it happened) test result. I wasn’t in the right place to help anyone and it’s great that Shout makes it easy for volunteers to take these self-care breaks when they need them.
But while things got on top of me during that time, I have no doubt that working as a Shout Volunteer has been a hugely beneficial experience for me during this pandemic. Being able to feel like I’m helping – or at least trying to – help people being affected by it has definitely helped me get through it too.
As we head into the darker months of the year again and lockdown measures are being reintroduced, those fears and pressures will only intensify and I’m proud to be a small part of a group of volunteers that are ready to help whoever needs us to get them – and us – through it. We’re here for you, 24/7.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious and struggling to cope with your mental health, our trained Shout Volunteers are here to support you, 24/7.