Volunteering and mental health

On average 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. However, of these, only a relatively small number will be diagnosed with a serious and enduring mental health problem.

Volunteering has been shown to be beneficial to the mental health of individuals. It can improve overall mental health and also help to protect from mental health problems.

The Mental Health Foundation lists some benefits of volunteering:

  • It provides structure and routine
  • It can help people feel good about themselves
  • It can improve feelings of self-esteem
  • It provides opportunities to make friends and take part in social activities
  • It can provide learning opportunities which can protect mental health

Involving volunteers with mental health problems

The following top tips are taken from a resource sheet produced by Capital Volunteering, a London wide project that has now closed led by CSV and the London Development Centre.

Supporting someone with a mental health issue as a volunteer is not so different to good practice in all volunteer management.


Top tips

  • Do provide access to information around benefits, often people are on disability benefits and a move into volunteering can cause anxiety around this
  • Do build links with employment and training providers that might help people with training and support in areas like self confidence, assertiveness, basic administration and IT skills. Many people with mental health issues will have been out of the work place for a while, or had their career and education interrupted. Often there are projects and services out there which can help with this
  • Do keep in touch with people waiting to start volunteering eg waiting for DBS checks. It can take a while for people to build up to volunteering and a long wait can make people feel unwanted and rejected, and their interests, and well being can change. Organising a social event such as a regular coffee morning keeps motivation and interest up as well as being an informal way of building up contact with people who might not yet be ready volunteer
  • Do be available to people, and flexible in how people can access support
  • Do make sure that everyone in your organisation has an awareness and understanding of mental health, and opportunities to address issues of stigma and discrimination
  • Do have a sensitive but open conversation with the person about their mental health support needs. Include things like: what impact that this might have on their work and the adjustments they might nee. Plans about what to do if someone becomes unwell and discuss disclosure.
  • Do get a newsletter or bulletin going. This works on many levels eg you can advertise opportunities showing the range of volunteering roles and challenging myths about what volunteering can be. You can also reach out an involve current volunteers providing an opportunity for people to share their experiences. This reaches people who aren’t quite ready to join in and for them to read about others who’ve faced similar circumstances. This can encourage others to take the first step. Also, producing the newsletter creates enjoyable volunteering roles for people who enjoy writing, art and photography