November 14, 2013

SharonHaving already volunteered at Brighton Pride and the Legal and General Family Fun Day this year, I thought that attending the Time to Change South East Champions networking day in Ashford would be a good opportunity to reflect on my journey over the summer months.  I also wanted to investigate whether there were any new developments which may be of interest to me and to explore other areas where I could extend my work as a Champion. 

It was an important step for me signing up as a Champion

It was an important step for me signing up as a Champion because following a severe mental health crisis in early 2012 I realised that those close to me often found it difficult to talk about my bipolar disorder and the effects this had on the family dynamics.  It also became clear to me that there continues to be a lack of acceptance of mental health conditions within communities. Often mental health is not regarded with the seriousness that it deserves and there is a lack of funding to address this issue in communities.

It was good to network with other Champions

It was great to catch up with Angela and some of the other Volunteer Coordinators from Brighton Village, Jenni and Sue and it was also good to network with the other champions who were already anticipating their first event as a volunteer. The timetable for the day offered opportunities to both listen to the more established volunteers and patiently answer questions about their experiences with Time to Change. I also took part in role play and it was a good opportunity to run through some of the many different scenarios and conversations which Champions may have to deal with during their first event, but in a safe and supportive environment. 

A break for a light lunch gave those present an opportunity to get to know each other and to share stories and experiences.  Sometimes, when you are living through difficult times in your life, relating to your own or others’ mental health problems, it is a comfort to know that there are others who have lived through similar situations and be in a position to understand, empathise and share  your own reflections.

I'm investigating other opportunities for training to become a volunteer coordinator

An outcome of the day for me which I am taking forward is to investigate any opportunities for training to enable me to attend an event as a co-ordinator. Angela also shared information as to how Champions could plan and organise our own Time to Change events to challenge stigma in our local areas. 

I also learnt that there are already some really enthusiastic Champions in the South East who are eagerly waiting for their first volunteering experience. But of course there is always room for more volunteers to come on board and find out first-hand just how worthwhile the work of Time to Change is in fighting to change the public perceptions of people with mental health conditions and to encourage open and honest conversations about these conditions.

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Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.