Volunteer For Your Mind Slowly but surely, mental health is being seen as an important an issue as physical health and moving up the political agenda. For years now, we have all been encouraged to take more exercise, eat our 5 portions of fruit & veg and cut down our consumption of things such as salt, alcohol and sugar to improve our physical health. But advice around mental health has been harder to come by. How do you look after your mental health? Well the good news is it is fairly easy to do and doesn't need to cost anything. One of the things you can do to maintain or improve your mental health is volunteer - which is where we come in. If you would like to give volunteering a try, there are hundreds of local opportunities just waiting for you over on the do-it site If you feel you might need a little extra help, give us a call on 01872 266988 and we can talk you through it or - in certain circumstances - signpost you to a supported programme run by us or one of our partner organisations. And if you want to find out more about exactly how volunteering can make a difference, this article from The Guardian might be of interest or you can read Rhys's story below.... Rhys is 23, he has Asperger’s, so sometimes he finds his social life awkward, and making friends and sustaining relationships is a minefield to him. He may misunderstand a conversation, and doesn’t always pick up on expression or sarcasm. He likes routine and gets frequently stressed if out of his comfort zone, and will do something repeatedly –like tapping his hand on his leg rapidly when sitting and waiting for a train that isn’t yet late, because he is worried it will be. He can get very intense and focussed on one topic, talking all day about it, and obsessing about the object of his current passion. From the age of 14 Rhys has experienced episodes of Psychosis, where he becomes confused and has hallucinations and disrupted patterns of thought. He gets moments of extreme highs and extreme lows, he also sometimes has felt persecuted, believing people want to harm him. He has not been able to communicate or be reached, and he is not always aware he is becoming unwell, so it can be a very frightening and distressing time. He doesn’t have learning difficulties, in fact he is quite clever. He is also confident, caring, very funny and likable. His additional problems though, have made his life and the lives of those around him –his family and friends, sometimes less simple than most. Planning a trip or holiday can be daunting. The excitement of a new PS4 game or going on a date with a new girlfriend can have an impact over several weeks, quickly turning into a low mood and eventual anxiety attack or episode. He doesn’t worry too much about the smaller stuff that the average person does; and if his behaviour is a bit erratic at times he laughs it off and has become adept at being able to take a little joke at his expense. He loves his independence, seeing his friends, going out, buying the latest gadget and having a pint in the pub. He hates talking about his ‘condition’, his face closes the moment you mention his mental wellbeing, but realises that sometimes he needs some support. It has taken a long time to come to terms with his mental illness, and longer still to be able to cope and live with it and not allow it to have a devastating impact. “He does have a few problems, he doesn’t have ‘Mental Health’ but he does experience poor mental health from time to time. Mental Health is like Physical health, you don’t say ‘oh I’ve got Physical Health’ do you? Sometimes it’s good, and you are well and fit and healthy, other times you may have a cold, or a sprained wrist or suffer with back problems; Its the same with for people who experience poor mental health, we shouldn’t be saying ‘I have Mental Health’, it may be depression or anxiety or for example like Rhys, experiencing an episode of Psychosis.” –relative. When leaving what was a very hard year at college at the age of 17 with a Travel and Tourism qualification, Rhys struggled to find work, but was put in touch with Volunteer Cornwall, who were able to find him a placement at Newquay Zoo. “This was one of my best experiences ever! I was helped by another volunteer and together we would talk to visitors about the meerkats and sell them little pots of mealworms so they could feed them. Occasionally we would help clear out some of the animals cages, David (the other volunteer) always made this more fun, and it helped my confidence. Sometimes I got a bit carried away, and David would explain to me the better way of saying something or doing something, but in a good way, he didn’t lecture me or tell me off. It was also the first time I had used a bus by myself since my episodes. Mum saw me on to the bus and David met me at the bus stop in Newquay, and although it was nerve wracking I was proud I could do it” Rhys returned to college and gained another 2 qualifications; He has also managed to hold down a part time summer paid job last year, and has volunteered in a variety of different roles, from helping in an infant school, and spending a weekend at CHICKS to working with the hospitality team at the Eden Project which he currently does now. “Volunteering isn’t quite the same as a job, that’s hard, and you kind of feel more of a responsibility. I have received a lot of help from the organisations and people where I volunteered, and they have usually been very understanding about my problems and difficulties, and I explain that I can’t always be reliable if I become unwell. I or my family will call in if I am expected, and let them know I won’t be in. I have been able to learn a lot, I love working with children, and (laughs) they love me, I can play with them at their level. I didn’t think I could cope with lots of people, but I’m getting a bit better at it, and I have learnt to make different coffees and hot chocolates, complete with the swirl designs. I like having the volunteering to look forward to, I have made some friends and am picking up new skills as well as feeling I’m doing something worthwhile, I really enjoy it it’s great.