Three ways volunteering can help you cope with depression

Volunteers in a Sue Ryder shop

This year our friends at the World Health Organization are leading a global campaign called 'Depression: let's talk'. Here, our Volunteer Development Officer Tracey shares three stories about Sue Ryder charity shop volunteers who credit giving their time with helping them combat depressive illness.

According to NHS Choices, "acts such as volunteering can improve your mental wellbeing", and 40 different studies over the past 20 years have indicated that giving to others can lead to lower levels of depression.

But the real proof is in the measurable change to volunteers' lives, health and happiness.

1. Vicky met her soulmate

Vicky started at our Westhoughton store nearly three years ago. At the time, she had recently lost her mum, was deeply depressed and suffered from agoraphobia; she described herself as "living in her bedroom". She never spoke and was very quiet, and even cried at times.

She found a family, team and support in Sue Ryder, who helped her get through this difficult time. "As shop manager, my mum died when I was only nine years old," explains manager Lucy Andrews, "so we talked, hugged and got Vicky more positive."

With her new friends and colleagues' support, she started to enjoy life again, and came out for meals and staff drinks, too. 22 months ago, she met Graham - another Westhoughton volunteer - they became friends and fell in love! A year ago, they got engaged, moved in together and made a lovely home.

"Vicky had gained so much confidence that I decided to train her to management levels," recalls Lucy. "She is now my support and is a key holder volunteer."

Vicky travels to the nearby Pemberton shop with Graham, opens up, manages the day-to-day running of the shop and cashes up, several days a week.

"This, to me, shows what volunteering can do: at first she needed my help and support and now she gives me help and support back," Lucy says. "She is a star."

2. Jimmy found his vocation

Jimmy’s life changed one year ago after he had a stroke. He was left partially paralysed, became very depressed and lost his confidence.

Then, one day, after having a chat with the manager at his local Seahouses Sue Ryder shop, he decided he'd like to volunteer. And, after those first tentative steps, there was no holding him back!

He loved it and felt he had a purpose again. He started to feel valued and, with the support of his whole team, his confidence grew and his depression lifted.

In fact, Jimmy enjoys working at the store so much that he is now doing an NVQ Level 2 in Retail with a view to pursuing a retail career.

In Jimmy’s own words: "I'm grateful I've gained so much personally through a difficult time. Thank you, Sue Ryder; you've helped me so much."

3.  Sue regained her confidence

Sue had previously been in touch with Sue Ryder's Neston store but lost contact as a result of her mental health issues, which span depression and anxiety, and of course impacted upon her confidence.

Once she'd got a bit better, she contacted the current manager, Jackie, and together they have worked through lots of things.

"Sue has had a few problems in the past but has had the strength to overcome them all," says Jackie. "She has come out the other side with a huge smile that really brightens your day!"

Sue now volunteers three days a week and is heading up the shop's new 'Sue's Secret Garden' project, which involves clearing debris in the yard, landscaping and growing plants to sell. She also sifts through all the shop's donations, selecting items to go in her mini garden centre.

"I personally take lots of pride and inspiration from Sue's story, and hope others do too," Jackie says.

Could volunteering help you?

View our volunteer vacancies

Tracey Le Gallez

Volunteer Business Partner for Retail & Corporate

Tracey Le Gallez