Dorrie: My Volunteer Story
The SANE helpline has been operating since 1992 providing 30 years of support to those who need us. In March 2020, due to the pandemic and working restrictions, we changed the way we support our callers and introduced a new email support service. During this difficult period we still continued to maintain a 7-day service.
We would not be able to deliver our service without the amazing work and support of our volunteers. Our trained and dedicated team of volunteers help us to deliver a service that has grown very much in demand over the last few years. We know through regular evaluation and feedback from our callers just how much of a difference our service and our volunteers have made.
The volunteering journey is very different for everyone and whilst for some the reason for volunteering can be very personal or about wanting to gain experience in working in mental health – we believe all our volunteers also learn a lot about themselves and gain new skills in their time with us.
Here, Dorrie writes about her volunteering journey at SANE and how you can make a difference.
An introduction to mental health
I came across the opportunity to volunteer at SANE after I finished university. I was unemployed and unsure what I wanted to do next.
I have always had a passion for mental health and working in the field interested but bewildered me at the same time. It felt like a minefield, so I thought volunteering with a mental health helpline would be a good introduction.
Little did I know that the lessons and skills I learnt would shape the career path I am on today.
The volunteer training at SANE introduced me to the idea of being a ‘rescuer’. I had not considered this term before, but it really resonated with me – the trainer said, “We are all here for the same reason, to rescue people who are in crisis.” I agreed, that’s why I am here.
Over the next day, we thought about what it means to rescue people. I imagined raising safeguarding alarms at the mention of self-harm, ensuring the caller was rescued and brought to immediate safety. In our training groups, we discussed how we would support a suicidal caller.
We talked about how we would feel if we weren’t sure we had helped. “I would feel awful,” I said, “I’d worry about them, what if I had made things worse?” The volunteer trainer said something which has stuck with me ever since.
“What if you re-define what it means to ‘help’ someone. When you ‘rescue’, you take on responsibility for someone else’s life; we can’t do that.” Instead, on the helpline, ‘help’ looks like offering genuine compassion and human connection, a non-judgemental ear, and space for a caller to just be themselves.
It looks like talking a problem through with someone in need, without giving advice or solutions. We seek understanding, and reflect, trusting the caller to turn inward and find answers themselves. We do not shy away, or panic, at difficult topics; we enter their world without judgement, as speaking to someone about suicide won’t make them more suicidal. It will just make them feel less alone.
The skills and life lessons I have learnt from the volunteer training at SANE have been transformative for me. If you’re considering a career in mental health, this is an outstanding and thorough introduction.
Self-reflection and effective debriefing is fundamental, and the team are incredibly supportive. I am now two years into training to become a psychotherapist and I carry all the wisdom and self-awareness I learnt from SANE with me.
Find out more about how you can get involved with SANE on our Volunteering with us page.