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Communities of Care: Supporting volunteers living with mental illness

Posted By Adam Dias, March 1, 2018
 Ask Kelly Banner

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes


I’ve had a complicated relationship with self-care. While I agree that everyone should be caring for themselves, I also know that self-care can turn into as much of a burden as it is a tool.

What if instead we create communities of care rather than letting care be an individual responsibility. By engaging in a support structure—forming social bonds and being available to each other—we can help to make sure that no one slips between the cracks.

As volunteer coordinators and managers, we have the opportunity to form these communities of care. Sometimes the difference between feeling alone in caring for your mental health and feeling like you have a team behind you can be astounding.

So how can you, as a volunteer leader, create a community of care?


Change the conversation

Rather than asking how someone is caring for themselves let’s ask how we can care for each other. By shifting the conversation to focus on mutual care we can form stronger bonds and work towards powerful support networks. We’ll all be healthier for it.

Talk one-on-one

If a volunteer seems off, then ask them how they’re doing. Trust your instincts, if you think a person’s behaviour or mood has changed it’s worth checking in on them. Reaching out can make all the difference.

Talk as a group

Start each shift with a group check-in. Consider everyone’s energy level and see how people are feeling, both emotionally and physically. Be open and authentic with what you share so that you set the tone for everyone else to share comfortably.

Know that you won’t make it worse.

Don’t be afraid to start the conversation with your volunteers, people will often avoid bringing up an issue themselves because they are worried about being bothersome or upsetting. You will only improve the situation by asking about it. In fact, if your volunteer is dealing with mental illness they may be isolating themselves from many other support systems. You might be the only other person they’ve seen that day. So ask, always ask.

Accept your limitations

We’re all human, we all struggle. It’s okay to say that you don’t know how to help someone but that you see them and you care. It’s not your job to have all the answers—it’s your job to support your volunteers, and I bet you’re pretty great at that already.


As you begin to build your community of care remember—the better we support each other the better we can serve our communities. Looking for more information about helping your volunteers be all they can be? Check out the Supporting Volunteers: Motivation, mentorship, and management course in our online learning centre.


Lisa Robinson, Program DeveloperLisa Robinson  is leading the research and development of Volunteer Toronto's first ever placement support program to help Torontonians that are facing barriers to achieving their volunteering goals. Whether they are new to Canada, have accessibility challenges, or find it hard to navigate computers the program is being designed to give everyone the resources they need to find a meaningful and supportive volunteer role.

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