Shelley was a young carer for her dad before he sadly passed away four years ago. Last year her mum was diagnosed with cancer and Shelley felt life repeating itself. With Step Together's support, Shelley began volunteering. She shares how her mental health has benefited as a result.
Now caring for her mum, Shelley also looks after her siblings and the household chores. Shelley has OCD and anxiety and began experiencing panic attacks at college. With the added pressure of her caring responsibilities for her mum, her mental health deteriorated.
“I had friends at college but I just felt really lonely and anxious all the time. I started having problems with my college tutor and became really stressed. I had to leave; I just couldn’t go there anymore. So I finished my art course at home.”
Shelley was introduced to Lucinda from Step Together by an employment charity. They began having one-to-one sessions to discuss how volunteering might help Shelley.
“Lucinda is really understanding. Normally when I talk about my mental health, people say you can’t have all of these problems. But she didn’t say that, she just listened and didn’t judge me. Everything was just suggestions and she never pushed me into doing anything if I wasn’t sure.”
“Being shy and anxious are two different things. I’m not shy, I just get really anxious and that’s what I need support with.”
Shelley has an interest in working in the care sector, so Lucinda supported her to apply for a role at a care home and helped her to prepare for the interview.
For the first couple of volunteering days, Shelley took a taxi to the placement. She was too anxious to use public transport initially, but feeling more comfortable and settled with the volunteering placement and having Lucinda’s regular support, Shelley now uses the bus.
“The placement is really supportive, they give me some space when I need it and let me have the time off for my mum’s appointments. When I am helping someone else, my anxiety and mental health issues are pushed to the back of my mind. It disappears for a while and I feel like a normal person. It’s only afterwards when I finish volunteering that those feelings come back in and I think, wow have I really just done that! I have done it and that makes me feel better about myself. I know I can go out and do things.”
Shelley is now applying for jobs in the care sector, using the skills and experience she has gained though volunteering. Recently, she went out for a meal with her boyfriend for the first time in four years, which is a huge step forward.
“Volunteering hasn’t been a magic wand for my mental health issues, but it has certainly helped. I don’t feel as anxious going out and about anymore.”
“Volunteering is great because you can go at your own pace and people don’t judge you. It’s a way of getting some good experience for when you are looking for work. I’m even telling my younger brother to go out and start volunteering!”