Sharmay has been a volunteer with SANE since March 2009. Leaving King’s College, London, with an MSc in Health Psychology, she wanted to gain practical experience in clinical work. Alongside her volunteering on SANE’s e-mail service, she works as a research assistant at an academic institution in London.
Sharmay says, “I find volunteering fulfilling and I volunteer with SANE because I want to be able to support SANE’s services and the positive work carried out to combat stigma and offer support to people affected by mental health issues.
David Gee is a self-employed consultant and programme manager in recycling and waste management. He has volunteered for SANE for ten years, in which time he has contributed a total of 1,432 hours. Besides supporting SANE he juggles life as a father, grandfather and children’s rock climbing instructor.
Initially David was interested in psychology; particularly psychology in the workplace as much of his work centres on selection and recruitment, team development and ‘people management’.
He says that the real motivation for becoming a SANE volunteer was a “desire to do something more worthwhile than my day job; an interest in people and a feeling that if I could understand other people I might better understand myself”.
As for guidance for someone contemplating volunteering, he says: “Think about your motivation – what you are doing this for. Be committed, be interested in the people you are talking to, be empathetic rather than sympathetic. Stick with it when it’s a bit scary in the early stages. Appreciate the opportunity you are being given to gain a little insight into someone else’s world.”
Margaret Cunningham, now retired, led a varied career spanning the Civil Service, social work in inner London and diplomatic life in Brussels.
Mental illness has featured in Margaret’s own family; her mother had bipolar disorder and she herself had post-puerperal psychosis after the births of her two children.
While good care and family support aided her recovery, she emphasises the value of services such as those provided by SANE: “At SANE, the work provides me with further insights into my own experience. It's also helping me make sense of retirement”.
Asked about her role in supporting SANE’s helpline, Margaret says: “It’s challenging, apposite, necessary and ongoing… the shifts can be immensely satisfying.”
Malcolm Beale’s ambition since his A levels was to be a clinical psychologist. Undeterred by fierce competition for a place on clinical doctorate programmes, Malcolm has developed his CV: support worker for people with learning disabilities, running groups for substance misusers and a stint in forensics.
Malcolm’s advice to new volunteers: “You do need to be robust in terms of knowing your own opinions, which may at times differ from your responses in your volunteer role, and you need to evaluate yourself for any extreme emotions which can arise.”
“Volunteering is a useful experience for anyone who wants a career in the health service even if it’s not in mental health. You learn the skill of talking to patients and carers and you definitely pick up the jargon.”