Volunteer Laura Potter is thriving and shares her experiences with Mental Health to help raise awareness in Mental Health Awareness Week.

“Volunteering at the Working Well Trust has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Primarily, I’m responsible for organising events for mental health services users at UpSkill – a Working Well Trust project.

It was my own experience of mental health issues that motivated my interest in the role. After suffering with particularly severe anxiety and depression since the age of 17, I experienced a particularly bad episode during my second year of university. This lead me to realise that my mental health issues were more severe than I had anticipated – which fully validated for me that my experience was real, and my feelings were justified given the difficult experiences I had faced. These experiences took a massive toll on my sense of ‘everything is ok, I can do this myself’. For a long time, people had not understood my feelings and the reasons why I am the way I am – which has actually been more of the problem than the illness itself. It was at this exact point that I decided I knew so much more about mental health than I realised (like all of us with mental health issues) – and that I wanted to use my own experiences to help others.

I’ve gradually been involved with mental health activism since my second year of university. Initially, I was interviewed for a differing position – Marketing Project Volunteer – but was unsuccessful. Fortunately, Hannah from Hestia alternatively offered the current position – Information and Events Volunteer – at the Working Well Trust where I’m based at the Pritchard’s Road NHS Daycentre in East London.

Upskill works with mental health services users looking for volunteer roles, work or employment. The prejudice faced by those with mental health difficulties is high – but increasingly more organisations are incredibly supportive about it.  Here, I’ve obtained experience with researching and planning various events, marketing including responsibility for our social media accounts and admin duties.

In addition, I’ve really benefitted from Hestia’s Volunteer training.  I’ve attended many workshops on personality disorders, suicide and self-harm, psychosis and the Mental Health Act. Everyone who attends these workshops has experience of mental illness, and many of them work in the sector. The experiences shared are universal and everyone tends to agree – yes, stigma has declined but what is incredibly important is that people who have personal experience get involved – if they can. You only really understand when you have experienced it yourselves.

Volunteering is my own self-care plan – it reminds us that our experiences are valid, worth sharing and that we can use them to better society.  Ultimately, I want to go on to work in campaigns for a large mental health charity. My time here at a smaller organisation has been incredibly valuable – I very much look forward to more training! “

Laura Potter- Volunteer at the Working Well Trust