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What is a Mental Health Volunteer?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 July 2018
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Many people feel a strong desire to help others in mental crisis, but they aren’t formally trained for this kind of work. That should be no discouragement, since there are numerous volunteer opportunities for people interested in the mental health field. The mental health volunteer may work in many ways to help those with either mental health conditions or present difficulties affecting mental health. Job description can be exceptionally wide because there are so many areas of society affected by mental health issues.

Perhaps the most direct mental health volunteer opportunities are available with partial day or full hospitalization mental institutions. These may serve specific populations too; some exist for veterans, others for children, and yet others for a wider population group. People, with some training, may work directly assisting patients in a manner similar to hospital volunteers. Similar jobs are available in many drug and alcohol centers, where a mental health volunteer could have a job like chaplain, patient assistant, patient advocate, or candy striper.

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The mental health volunteer may prefer different work, and might enjoy serving people who are not hospitalized. Lots of countries have public and private agencies dedicated to serving the needs of those with mental illness or conditions like diminished capacity. In such settings, volunteers might make up most of the workforce. They could provide help and support to people seeking it, or they might have secretarial and administrative responsibilities. Any skills from a cheerful, helpful manner to ability to put together a newsletter or webpage could be desired.

Sometimes people are most interested in becoming a mental health volunteer with specific populations. Helping children who are at risk may be of particular use and could come in many forms. Schools may sometimes identify children considered at risk due to poverty, family situation, or other factors, and they occasionally ask for volunteers to spend extra time with these kids for the length of a school year. Other more permanent programs like Big Brothers/Big Sisters® operate on a similar principal, where the mental health volunteer models healthy relationships with a young person to increase self esteem.

Another mental health volunteer opportunity is participating in foster care as a parent, particularly for children who have a history of parental abuse or mental disorders. This is certainly full time work requiring some parenting skill and willingness to make great commitment to a child. Other people work as temporary guardians for children in the court systems. While this does not involve quite the same commitment level as foster parenting, it does require people to be strong advocates for children who are great risk for mental health issues or who have very pressing need.

People interested in becoming a mental health volunteer will find many places to work. Mental health is a huge field that is not just about a few well-known mental illnesses. It should be noted that mental health professionals also volunteer to give their services to the mentally ill who could otherwise not afford them.

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