If we are concerned about the mental health of the nation, we need to be concerned about the future of volunteering. We cannot afford to take volunteering and its mental health benefits for granted. The contribution of volunteers in the mental health workforce also needs to be better understood and strategically considered in workforce planning and development.
The recent inquiries into mental health have paid little or no explicit attention to the role of volunteering in the nation’s mental health. This is despite extensive evidence that volunteering can play a vital role in individual and community wellbeing. Volunteering offers three key contributions in the context of mental health and suicide prevention: the protective value of volunteering in sustaining good mental health, the role of volunteering in mental health recovery and the contribution of volunteers to the mental health workforce.
Our advocacy aims to ensure the role of volunteering in mental health prevention and recovery is recognised and supported.
National Mental Health Workforce Strategy
The National Mental Health Workforce Strategy 2021-2031 aims to recognise the work of people in mental health settings, other health and social services settings, and in the broader community. It will include measures to sustain a comprehensive workforce to respond to the prevention, intervention, and recovery needs of Australians experiencing mental ill-health. A final strategy is due to be submitted to the government in late 2021.
Volunteering Australia provided a submission to the Workforce Strategy highlighting the extensive contributions of volunteers in the sector, and the need to recognise and support volunteer involvement.
In the submission, Volunteering Australia makes the following recommendations:
- Include volunteers in data collection efforts as part of the proposed data strategy for the mental health workforce.
- Recognise the contributions of volunteers in key service areas including suicide prevention, supporting those experiencing perinatal anxiety and depression, supporting new parents, targeting loneliness and social isolation, identifying and responding to family violence, mental health education, advocacy, peer advisory, and sector development.
- Include volunteering as a means of improving the attractiveness of the mental health sector.
The Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
The Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention was established to consider a range of strategic reviews of the current mental health system, and whether the recommendations are fit for purpose in the context of the Summer 2019- 20 bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Volunteering Australia provided a submission to the Select Committee focused on the following issues:
- The three ways in which volunteering can support mental health and suicide prevention
- A critical gap in the Productivity Commission’s recommendations
- An opportunity in the Victorian Royal Commission’s ‘community collectives’ proposal
Volunteering Australia CEO Mark Pearce was invited to provide evidence to the Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention following our submission. Volunteering Australia recommends that the role of volunteering is made explicit and advanced as an integral part of the implementation strategies emerging from the various inquiries.
Volunteering a ‘critical gap’ in mental health recommendations
Volunteering Australia highlighted volunteering as a ‘critical gap’ in a submission to the Australian Department of Health consultation on the Productivity Commission’s report on Mental Health.
The Productivity Commission’s final report of its mental health inquiry was published on 16 November 2020. The Australian Government welcomed the final report of the Productivity Commission inquiry and sought feedback on its recommendations.
Volunteering Australia provided a submission to the consultation on mental health addressing the need for the recommendations to be adapted to include the role of volunteering in securing the nation’s mental health. This means recognising that volunteering contributes in three main ways:
- Sustaining good mental health – Every year, millions of volunteers benefit individually from the protective mental health value of volunteering.
- Recovering from mental illness – Volunteering is beneficial for people living with mental illness and can be important as part of a mental health recovery journey.
- Supporting mental health services – Volunteers are a vital part of the mental health workforce, contributing to the mental health system and the wider community.
The proposed new mental health strategy needs to include how volunteering can sustain and enhance its contribution. Increasing opportunities for volunteering (generally and as part of the mental health workforce) should be part of the Australian Government’s strategic focus and action on mental health.
In the coming months, Volunteering Australia will continue to advocate for the important role volunteering has to play in securing the nation’s mental health going forward. Volunteers are an integral part of the mental health workforce and their contribution needs to be better understood and strategically considered.
For further information or if you would like to share your experience of volunteering or volunteer management in mental health, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org