Wednesday, 2 August 2017

What Is It Like to Volunteer with Time to Change?

I recently volunteered with Time to Change, the UK’s largest mental health campaign, at Northern Pride on Newcastle’s Town Moor. This was the third time I’ve volunteered. The first was at Newcastle Mental Health Day 2016. The second was at last year’s Northern Pride.

It was a little after 11 a.m. when I arrived at the Health Zone marquee and met up with Angela Slater, Time to Change Community Equalities Coordinator for the North East. I’ve known Angela a couple of years now, and it was great to catch up with her and the other volunteers (Time to Change calls us Champions). Angela introduced me to a friend of hers on a nearby sexual health stall, who was dressed for the occasion as Chlamydia, one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK. It made for an interesting photo!

The event proper began around 1 p.m. with the arrival of the parade. We were close to the main entrance and for an hour or so we were really busy! It doesn’t come naturally to me to engage with someone I don’t know, but once I’d chatted to a few people I relaxed into things. I found it helpful to watch how my fellow volunteers went about it, as everyone has their own style and approach.

The folded paper “pick a number” toys (sometimes called origami fortune tellers) were a great conversation starter. Those of a certain age (ahem!) remember them from days of yore; I was surprised that many younger folk also knew what they were! The flaps hid simple suggestions to connect with others about their—or your own—mental health and wellbeing. One invited you to text or call someone you know. When that came up for two people I was talking to, they immediately pulled out their mobile phones and set about connecting! We handed quite a few of the toys out as giveaways, which kept us busy replenishing the stock.

Of the people I spoke to, the consensus seemed to be that stigma and discrimination remain very much part of people’s experience, but that society is generally more open about discussing mental health. A few said younger folk are more open about discussing it than older generations. Several mentioned sports stars and celebrities who have spoken out about mental health, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry whose Heads Together campaign combats the stigma surrounding mental illness. Also well-known artists and performers whose lives and deaths have brought mental health to public attention.

Events like this remind me that each of us has a unique story to share. It was encouraging to hear people talk positively of the support they’ve received from friends, relatives, colleagues and professionals. I had one really good conversation about mental health in the work place. Others shared their struggles with mental health, with stigma and discrimination, or with support services, in some cases stretching back many years.

Roughly half those I asked had heard of Time to Change before. Angela told me there are two major media campaigns a year: one in February for National Time To Talk Day and another in October for World Mental Health Day (October 10 each year). Time to Change is often engaged by production companies working with mental health story lines in TV soaps and dramas.

Time to Change volunteers are under no obligation to share more than we want to, but I’m always happy to talk about how I met Fran, our mutually supportive friendship, and the book we wrote together. After all, that’s what led me into the mental health arena in the first place. Some people took away our leaflets and contact cards, and I was delighted to connect with a few later via social media.

That’s what I love about an event like this. It’s all about connection. One on one, human connection. Sharing our stories, experiences, concerns, hopes and journeys. I invited several of the Time to Change volunteers, and some of the people I met at the event, to share their impressions of the day.

I love taking Time to Change to Newcastle Pride each year because of the passionate, friendly committed Champions and how open and engaged the public are. It’s so important to talk about mental health with all of the communities within our region.
—Angela Slater

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Curiosity is the path to knowledge, and knowledge is the power to shed light and overcome obstacles. Open up. Educate. Spread the word. Don’t suffer alone.

The people at the Time to Change booth were extremely informative on what they do. I felt understood when I spoke about my mental health which is extremely important to me. Everyone was very friendly and I went away with lots of information and things that I can check out.

Mental health is a very important issue within the lgbtqia community and it was great to start so many open and positive conversations about mental health at Pride this year. As always, I had a blast!
—Alexandria Readman

The Health Tent at Newcastle Pride was a positive, supportive and encouraging area. The Time to Change stand had so many happy, friendly faces all there to help people. There because they care. Great to see Marty as a TTC Champion! Newcastle Pride outdid itself this year, a great day for all regardless of age, race, disability, orientation—keep it up!
—Sharon Race

It was great to be amongst all my close friends and make new ones. The atmosphere was electric outside. You always feel safe and happy at Pride. I take pride being a part of Pride. It’s a special part of history and joyous!
—Carol Robinson

If you would like to volunteer with Time to Change, or want to know more about their programmes, you can sign up for free with no obligation on their website.



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