It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week, and to highlight the postive effects of volunteering on mental health and wellbeing, Grandmentors Volunteer Manager Kelly told us her story.

Volunteers and members of the local community at ‘A Very Royal Street Party’

‘I had my first baby back in 2011, and after working as a volunteering coordinator for ten years I made the decision not to return to work immediately. I felt suddenly quite alone with a newborn baby, and I missed the support network of colleagues that I’d had for ten years. In the same year my dad died; everything built up, and the feelings of loneliness and isolation led to me developing postnatal depression.

After the birth of my second baby in 2014, my husband lost his job, and I developed post-natal depression that was much worse the second time around, to the point of being suicidal. Trying to access mental health support was very difficult, and with funding cuts to the NHS and not meeting the eligibility criteria, I felt even more isolated with a second child. It was a really horrible period.

I felt like I had to reinvent myself and find a new me. I thought to myself, ‘I need to do something. My youngest will be going to pre-school in a couple of years, so mummy needs to polish up her CV, because mummy will be going back to work!’

Over a few drinks with my best friend, we excitedly decided to throw a little village street party to celebrate the Queen’s 90th Birthday. I’ve always loved putting on events, and have enjoyed working with teams of volunteers. So it was a fairly obvious choice for me to volunteer my time to put on a community event.

It started as afternoon tea in the local churchyard, and quickly grew to afternoon tea for 400 people in a marquee. We had to block off the high street with traffic management systems, and as it grew we added a band, memory books for attendees, ponies parading the streets, and a display in the church. It just mushroomed into this enormous event! I was leading the volunteering and the event management of it. Being able to volunteer, to give something back and use the skills that I had to benefit the community was brilliant.

Volunteering lifted the suicidal thoughts and in turn lifted my depression. It gave me a sense of purpose and made me feel as though I was worth it – I was worth being around. I felt like I had a place because I was taking part in a meaningful activity; I had something to work to and I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to do. With a paid job there is a sense of duty, but with volunteering there was no expectation from anybody for me to put on the event. It was a personal challenge, and the motivation behind it wasn’t monetary. Although the outcome was a cracking party for the village, the impact of volunteering for me was the improvement in my mental health, my wellbeing, and my ability to function as a purposeful member of society and be a mother to my children.

If you are experiencing poor mental health, my advice would be to find someone that you can confide in, and that you can reach out to. It can be a really small thing, just picking up the phone to somebody. The relationship with the my best friend cemented and grew through volunteering; we spent a lot of time together, communicating with each other, and being around one another.

One of the reasons I continue to volunteer now is that it’s ‘my time’ headspace, it gets me to do something that I’m enjoying. Volunteering is an integral part of my life, both professionally and personally. I’ve always volunteered in one way or another and it’s vitally important to embed that into my children as well, so they volunteer from an early age.’