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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Thinking about mental health and your volunteers 


This Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May) is a perfect time for volunteer managers to consider how they look after and support their teams at all times, not just for one week a year, says Shaf Mansour

While the mental wellbeing and happiness of volunteers is clearly a big consideration for the sector, it may not always be at the forefront of people’s minds with assumptions that wellbeing policies and documents are only for an organisation’s paid staff - but they should and do apply to everyone that contributes to a charity or organisation’s work.

The purpose of a wellbeing policy is to promote a good work-life balance and it helps to create a culture of openness and understanding within an organisation.

Knowing how to establish this is important for all volunteers, just as much as it is for staff.

The value in being valued

As with any part of life, volunteer managers can ensure their teams feel valued by ensuring they are having conversations with everyone and checking in with them on a regular basis. It’s also key for volunteers to know where they can get support if and when they need it - whether that’s having access to documents with information to help them or knowing who to call on if they have a query.

Basic things like this might seem trivial for people who work within an organisation every day, but for volunteers it’s even more important to feel informed and valued when they have limited contact time with a charity.

Given that many volunteers sign up to a role because they have an affiliation or passion for a cause, want to make a difference to others, or because they want to meet new people, ensuring they have high quality social interactions when they are volunteering is crucial to their overall happiness and fulfilment.

This can be achieved through the training they’re given during the onboarding stage, the communications they receive or the relationship they can build with their volunteer managers. Perhaps most importantly, a volunteer will feel that their wellbeing is being considered by a charity or organisation if they can see the value in what they’re doing.

Highlighting achievements and showing the impact of volunteer projects on the wider charity through an internal newsletter or an online news page is another fast and easy way for managers to show their appreciation to their teams. Volunteer management systems, like Access Assemble, have key features within them to help make comms with volunteer teams easy in these situations, and to quickly direct volunteers to online documents and training that they need for their role.

Prescribing volunteering for mental health

One way we have seen volunteering and mental health come together is through social prescribing, whereby volunteering is ‘prescribed’ by health and social care professionals to help boost a person’s mental and physical health outcomes.

Getting outdoors, having a sense of purpose and belonging, and seeing your work making a difference to others can all have a beneficial effect on a person’s mental health - using non-medical support to address their depression, anxiety and stress. The NCVO’s Time Well Spent 2023 report backed this up when it found 75% of volunteers surveyed said that volunteering had improved their mental health and wellbeing. 

Social prescribing can help alleviate pressures on the NHS, particularly on GPs, and can save the NHS millions in appointments and care for mental health conditions. Support in Mind Scotland (SiMS), has called for decision makers in Scotland to adopt a social prescribing approach to healthcare as a priority to help reduce pressures on health services.

Its report, A Desk Review of Social Prescribing, found that social prescribing reduced demand for GP appointments by an average of 28%, and A&E referrals by an average of 24%. 

Kathryn Hughes volunteer programme manager from Epilepsy Action, has seen first hand the positive effect that social prescribing can have, on both the individual and charity, and says charities need to be prepared with a strong recruitment process to help attract volunteers and keep their volunteer numbers consistent.

She said: “The social prescribing of volunteering opportunities not only helps patients with their mental and physical health, it provides them with new skills to aid employability. Furthermore it also helps charities to keep volunteer numbers consistent to continue providing vital services.

“Another challenge we face is that there are thousands of social prescribers across the country, and it is impossible to engage with them all to promote our volunteer opportunities and services. Software systems that can be used to enable us to promote our opportunities to a wider range of social prescribers will help us to focus our efforts on delivering services rather than marketing.”

When a potential volunteer signs up to a charity role to help maintain a social connection or increase their physical activity, they don’t want a difficult and complicated process. They want the journey to be straightforward and to be part of something positive that helps them feel connected and fully supported.

Being aware of the mental health of volunteers, and how it can benefit a charity's work in a multitude of ways, is just the first step in making a difference to every individual involved, with the positive effects from it being felt across the charity too.

The voluntary sector is already doing so much to boost the mental wellbeing of its teams and their service users, but there is always more that can be done. This Mental Health Awareness Week offers a perfect opportunity for charities to reflect on all the good things already happening, and look ahead to how they can maximise the positive impact of this in the future.

Shaf Mansour is product manager at The Access Group’s not for profit division, which provides volunteer management software to help recruit, manage and engage volunteers. 



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