Volunteering with the Parents Helpline

Volunteering with the Parents Helpline

We're celebrating the amazing work our volunteers do. One of our Parents Helpline volunteers explains what her role involves and why she does it.

What attracted you to volunteering for YoungMinds Parents helpline?

I was at a time in my life and career where I could afford to do something worthwhile in the voluntary sector. After 25 years teaching in the state system, I could see that the mental health of so many of our young is an area of growing concern. The incidents and stories I heard – albeit anecdotally – from my friends or my children’s friends, were alarming, alarmingly common and occurring in all types of families.

When I looked at the YoungMinds website, the sort of campaigning and messages they were giving out, I was really impressed and keen to be involved with such an organisation.

I admit that I felt totally under qualified at the beginning, but the training was fantastic, as was the realisation that sometimes a really small change in the way we speak to or interact with young people, or parents, can make a real difference.

How long have you been a YoungMinds volunteer?

I have been volunteering on the helpline for just over a year.

What’s a typical day like?

A day on the helpline will involve answering around 8-10 calls. The problems the callers describe vary enormously. For all calls, the volunteers are trained to listen and validate the caller’s feelings and concerns - not to diagnose or solve problems. We are able to suggest simple strategies to try. Or, it might be appropriate to sign post to other organisations who specialise in a certain area, for example, anxiety.

Sometimes, a parent might be attending an important meeting with school, GP, counsellor or a care team. We are able to give them strategies and even phrases to use, that will help them express their concerns clearly and empower them in trying to get the best care, support and communication with professionals involved in their child’s well-being.

What have you gained from being a volunteer?

I absolutely did not go into this with my own children in mind, but the development of my knowledge and understanding together with the skills I have learned through the training is helping my parenting skills.

Active listening and the validating of feelings is something I have become really aware of in my interactions with my own children. The difference an initial response can make is enormous. My default response used to be trying to make their problems disappear, so if someone was nasty to them I would say ‘you have loads of other friends - ignore him / her’ which, I now realise, is essentially just pushing their feelings to one side. An acknowledgement along the lines of ‘that must feel pretty horrible, I am not surprised you were upset’ changes the interaction totally and is more likely to make a child feel like this person really understands me / my day. 

How are you supported in your role as a volunteer?

Sometimes the calls have content or emotions that are difficult to hear or perhaps a call will hit a nerve with the volunteer, but the structure and the care of the helpline team could not be more supportive. It is totally acceptable if a volunteer needs to take a break or needs to talk to a supervisor. At the end of each day, volunteers must attend a debriefing session and this is a space to offload and share anything that we need to.

This is an essential component of the day and creates an atmosphere that makes you leave the office feeling humbled by the support you have given and strong enough to continue with your week.

More volunteers' stories

Find out more about us what it's like being a volunteer at YoungMinds, what they do, why they do it and what they gain.

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