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Depressed? Try volunteering
29 November 2005
by Ben Pindar

London, UK: A man who beat chronic depression is supporting a new campaign in the UK which aims to show how volunteering can help people overcome mental health issues.

The Capital Volunteering project, which is jointly led by Community Service Volunteers (CSV) and the London Development Centre, is aiming to demonstrate the real life impact of volunteering on mental health service users who have volunteered as part of their recovery.

To help boost the campaign charity chiefs have enlisted the help of Vander Peter who has talked about his own experiences as he used volunteering to help restore his life.

As part of the initiative Mr Peter is also featured in a new publication called Capital People.

Mr Peter was diagnosed with chronic depression in 1989 and decided to try volunteering in 1990 following a suicide attempt.

He started promoting awareness of mental health in the African Caribbean community but now also volunteers at a local radio station at the Whittington Hospital in north London.

"It's rewarding when you see how pleased some of the patients are to see you," he explained. "Many people do not have visitors during their whole stay in hospital so my popping in to see them makes a difference to their day."

Mr Peter believes that his work as a volunteer has had a big impact on his own life and helped him to deal with his depression.

He said: "Volunteering allows me to put something back in the community which makes me less selfish and also balances my mind because I am not always thinking about me.

"It also has a feel good factor to it which you can't buy. Doing acts of kindness and showing consideration for others is priceless."

Capital Volunteering is working to improve social inclusion by increasing the number and range of supported volunteering opportunities. It works with people who have, for example, coped with attempted suicide, schizophrenia, and chronic depression.

There are more than 26,000 admissions to psychiatric hospitals in London every year with 21.7% of admissions due to depression and anxiety, 34.5% due to schizophrenia and related psychoses and 21.9% related to substance misuse.

The director of Capital Volunteering, Claire Helman, said: "It is clear from the experiences of many people who are living with and recovering from mental ill health that volunteering as part of a recovery programme can play a significant role in helping people to manage their illness, and re-claim their lives.

"Furthermore, supported volunteering and befriending or buddying projects have the potential to reduce peoples' use of hospital and crisis services, not only paying dividends for the individual, but also for the health service."

The focus of Capital Volunteering is on supporting people who are isolated due to their illness and whose confidence, self-esteem and social networks are undermined due to their experiences of mental ill-health.

Its purpose is to enable people with serious mental health issues to volunteer in a wide range of settings, improving their confidence, skills, social networks and employability. The project also helps organizations find and support volunteers to act as social sponsors or buddies to people with serious mental health issues.