Evita shares her story volunteering in mental health with the WPF Therapy.
I was exposed to volunteering at school. It was strongly encouraged as it was a good way to give back to the community, learn new skills and could support my career endeavours. I can’t remember exactly what my first volunteer experience was but I know over the years I have helped dig a wildlife garden in a school, mentored younger kids, worked in a charity shop, minded support phone lines in the dead of night and been on a fundraising committee to raise money to get more volunteers reading in schools. Without a doubt, each of these experiences has enriched my own life. I gained so much during each of these experiences – empathy for people facing different challenges, learnt about issues that I wouldn’t have ordinarily come into contact with in my regular daily life and met some really special people.
Of all my volunteering experiences, my current trustee role is the one that is closest to my heart. Two years ago, I joined WPF Therapy, a charitable social enterprise that trains therapists and offers affordable therapy to clients according to their income. This role means a lot to me as I was a client there for a short period many years ago.
According to the mental health charity Mind, 1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer from a mental health issue in their life. Yet there is still a huge stigma when it comes to mental health. People are often afraid to ask for help even amongst their own friends and family in fear of being labelled as mad or be met with a lack of empathy.
Funding for mental health is ever more constrained today and those not suffering from acute mental health needs often get nothing more than a prescription for drugs. Whilst drugs can be part of the solution, I believe it is rarely the solution on its own. The NHS does offer Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT); much of this is short term Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT can offer simple coping strategies but many do need longer term support. Unfortunately, the NHS doesn’t usually fund this type of support and most patients have to find the funds to pay for this themselves. Open-ended therapy is often expensive and can cost more than £100 per hour in Central London. This is simply out of reach for many and that’s why I think the availability of affordable therapy according to income is so vital. Treating anxiety and depression early can prevent more serious mental illness so the ability to offer this at a lower cost is really important.
WPF Therapy doesn’t receive grants. Aside from a few generous people who remember us in their wills, our income comes from the training courses we offer to those who wish to become therapists, those who are already practising and doing further training and clients that come to us for therapy. Essentially, our higher income clients and trainees are subsidising lower income clients – not an uncommon social enterprise model.
Being a trustee of a charitable social enterprise isn’t easy and it’s been a tough time for small to medium sized charities. We face the same issues as many charities – funding pressures, trying to do more or the same with decreasing budgets and recruitment and retaining talented individuals. We have to ask ourselves where we are going and if this model is sustainable going forward. There are times when this feels like a huge responsibility along with my day job and raising a young family but it’s worth it because it’s for an organisation I truly believe in.
Top 3 tips for volunteering:
1) Volunteer for a cause you really care about – giving up your free time or time away from loved ones is more bearable when you are doing it for something you really care about.
2) Show up – if you have a made a commitment, stick to it. People are counting on you.
3) Try different roles – work on the front line – I have done nights and picked up the phone to support people who need to talk to someone at 3 am in the morning. This helps you keep perspective when you are sitting in a meeting room and going through board papers and excel spreadsheets.