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Drew’s story: The power of volunteering for mental health

Drew’s volunteering journey with Change Mental Health helped him overcome personal challenges, support others and discover his own strength.

Drew - volunteering for mental health

Drew looked for ways to help others affected by mental illness, so they could develop their photographic skills and experience the mental wellbeing benefits of creative expression. After completing his degree at the Cumbria Institute of the Arts in 2019, he learned about Change Mental Health from a friend. 

He planned to volunteer with the photography group run by the Employability Support Project in Dumfries. However, lockdown in 2020 disrupted his plans. The situation affected his mental health, prompting him to seek support from the service himself.  

During this challenging period, Drew received support from our Dumfries and Galloway services, primarily through online video calls. He was tasked with creating a virtual exhibition using Artsteps.com, a significant challenge due to his unfamiliarity with the software and his low motivation. Despite these hurdles, Drew successfully launched the exhibition, marking a personal victory. 

Once restrictions were lifted, Drew gradually returned to group activities. He was asked to help run a new photography group for younger service users. Despite the promising start, the group eventually disbanded, but Drew continued to engage with the original photography group. These sessions were vital for Drew, as they provided a creative outlet and helped reduce his anxiety, combat loneliness and build confidence through new skills and positive feedback. 

Over the next two years, Drew participated in various group activities, including a creative writing group. This group met once a week, where members could experiment with writing in different genres and forms and share their work with the group.  

“I found the creative writing group to be challenging but fulfilling as it helped me overcome the worst of my social anxiety. Being around like-minded people with similar interests also helped me to reignite my social life, which I had allowed to wither in the aftermath of the lockdowns.”

Volunteering for mental health

Feeling he had gained a lot from the creative writing group, Drew transitioned back into volunteering. He began with a brief stint at the Gift Shop once run by our Employability Support Project on Munches Street in Dumfries. He simultaneously volunteered with a local museum as an artifact photographer. This role led to a successful pop-up exhibition in the town centre, a milestone Drew credits to the support from Change Mental Health. Thanks to the support from Change Mental Health, he was ready to take the next step, which was employment. 

Working closely with the staff at Change Mental Health, Drew developed his employability skills, updated his CV and even participated in an open-day presentation as a success story – which gave him a taste of public speaking. Despite his social anxiety, he successfully delivered the presentation, further boosting his confidence. 

Adding to Drew’s success journey, his photography was featured in a charity auction organised by the British Hydropower Association in 2023. This event coincided with the official announcement of the partnership between BHA and Change Mental Health. For Drew, the recognition of his talent and resilience meant a lot. Seeing his photography sold at auction reinforced his sense of giving back and being appreciated in the community. 

Drew also volunteered with a history-themed support group at the Employability Support Project, where people could learn about the history of the world and Scotland and improve their reading skills. That experience allowed him to learn about risk assessment and other administrative tasks. He was later asked to assist with another photography group for younger service users, a role he enjoys immensely. Drew now works part-time at the museum he volunteered at and continues volunteering with Change Mental Health.

“Change Mental Health has been my crucial support network over the past five years. 

“I have to thank the staff for their patience and help in getting through some tough times. If not for their understanding and ability to gently push me to challenge myself, I would not be where I am today.” 

Change Mental Health’s Employability Support Project plays a pivotal role in Drew’s story. The service uses a person-centred approach to help people like Drew and their families achieve their employability goals, better mental health and overall wellbeing through group activities and one-to-one support. Participants engage in activities that align with their interests, which helps develop skills and build resilience.  

The Employability Support Project currently has multiple volunteers, many of whom are also service users. Volunteering offers numerous benefits, including gaining new skills and building a strong CV. It demonstrates dedication and initiative, which can help people when looking for employment. Additionally, volunteering enables personal growth, improves confidence and gives people a sense of community. Like in Drew’s case, volunteering also provides mental health benefits such as gradual exposure to social situations, combating loneliness and building self-confidence through new skills and positive feedback. 

Drew’s experience with Change Mental Health shows that volunteering can help people with poor mental health or living with mental illness. By helping others, they can realise their potential, their worth to others and they can achieve their goals. 

support

If you need support, our Advice and Support Service is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, where advisers can signpost you to local support that most fits your needs, including our own Change Mental Health services. We offer initial advice on money worries and help to deal with emergencies.

Contact 0808 8010 515, email us at advice@changemh.org or fill out the enquiry form on the Advice and Support Service page.

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