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Mental Health Matters: My Experience With Postnatal Anxiety and Depression

In this powerful first-person story, volunteer manager Megan Cassar reveals her traumatic experience with postnatal anxiety and depression following the birth of her first child, an illness that went undiagnosed for 18 months. Her struggle to successfully recover led Cassar to not only work as a volunteer to help break down the stigma of postnatal depression but to also rethink her role as a leader of volunteers who confront mental illness in the workplace. Cassar’s poignant insights into why and how volunteer managers can support those who are suffering will help all volunteer leaders set an example in the workplace.

“As leaders of volunteers, we have a duty of care to a diverse range of people,” Cassar writes. “We may not directly manage every volunteer in our organisation but, as the leader of those volunteers, we have a responsibility for them. We are their advocates. We want to ensure that our volunteers feel supported to be open and honest about their volunteer experience as well as any other experiences outside of the workplace.”

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Unleashing the Untapped Power of Volunteers as Advocates

The last few years have been challenging for non-profits. Fundraising and safeguarding scandals, accusations of excessive executive pay, concerns over political bias – the list of controversies has grown, negatively impacting the public’s trust and confidence in good causes. Solutions and responses have been proposed, most geared at educating the public and media about the modern realities of running nonprofits. But almost none of these responses and solutions have involved volunteers. Why is that? Are we failing to make the most of what should be some of our most passionate advocates?

In this Points of View, Rob Jackson and Erin R. Spink debate this issue and review how this untapped power of volunteers as advocates can be realized. It’s not rocket science, they conclude, and the benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks. 

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Volunteers Protecting Civil Rights

Freedom of speech and of movement, freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of religious worship. . . All are taken for granted by many and they are, of course, fundamental to volunteerism as an associative activity within the civil society space. These rights and freedoms became enshrined in laws over centuries in democratic countries, often after having been hard fought and won in the first place. But they can just as easily be removed or revoked.

Volunteers around the world are monitoring civil rights. They often also take action to defend rights where there is a risk of them being eroded, or if governments need to be challenged where rights are being abused. This issue of Along the Web looks at examples of where and how volunteers are protecting fellow citizens from unequal treatment. These examples show that volunteers often work alongside professionals such as lawyers, and in some communities even place themselves at personal risk in the course of defending or promoting extension of rights.


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Volunteers and Sexual Health Projects

Despite being an important part of our physical and mental health, as well as playing an integral part in our emotional wellbeing and social relationships, sexual health can sometimes still be a difficult subject to define and talk about. Different cultures, sub-cultural groups, and individuals hold varying beliefs, values, and attitudes about sexual health.

More than just an absence of disease or dysfunction, the varied components for having good sexual health include having a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships free of coercion, discrimination, or violence. And while the World Health Organisation has been working in the field of sexual health for well over 40 years, non-profit organisations and volunteers have largely pioneered advances in sexual health care, at times paving the way for new services and approaches that healthcare systems have been slow to adopt.

In this Along the Web, Arnie Wickens looks into some of the projects and programs around the world that incorporate volunteers to try to inform and educate others concerning sexual health, often challenging sexual health misconceptions in their efforts to improve the lives of others.

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The Professional Responsibility to Have and Share Opinions

In this thought-provoking Points of View, Susan J. Ellis and Rob Jackson profess that they are not trying to exhort volunteer managers or instill guilt (well, maybe a tiny bit). Rather, these two volunteer leadership vanguards explain why and how a strong profession like volunteer management must advocate for its beliefs, and why members have a professional responsibility to seize opportunities to express their educated opinions. Doing so, Ellis and Jackson argue, will not only help empower individual volunteer managers but also move the field forward more quickly and effectively than this is happening right now.

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Empowering Volunteers Through Health Literacy

Barwon Health, the largest and most comprehensive regional health services in Australia, concluded several years ago that its 1,000 volunteers were ready and able to improve the health of their community. So in February 2014, the health service implemented a Volunteer Training and Development program that provided volunteers with opportunities to expand their healthcare knowledge, participate more concretely in the health service's mission, and ultimately build an empowered, healthy, and sustainable volunteer base for the future.

In this e-Volunteerism feature, Barwon Health’s Lyn Stack writes that “by investing in our volunteers through health knowledge, we utilise their support to directly improve the health and wellness of our community, while also providing volunteers with opportunities to increase confidence and decrease fear of entering the health sector.”  Stack describes how the program has expanded in two years to include Australia’s first Volunteer Health and Wellness Calendar, a Healthy Living Ambassadors program, and a national public awareness campaign to help volunteers expand their own health awareness to others. “By sharing this program,” Stack writes, “we can empower all volunteer leaders to invest in and reward their volunteers through the power of knowledge.”

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Volunteering that Aids Victims of Crimes


Someone once asked me how I hold my head up so high after all I have been through. I said it's because no matter what, I am a survivor, NOT a victim.          - Patricia Buckley

Volunteering with victims of crimes can be a somber experience, yet many find this area of human services to be intrinsically rewarding and psychologically satisfying. This edition of Along the Web explores formal volunteering that aids and addresses victims of crime. Author Erick Lear will review a diverse group of websites, including: direct services provided to victims; services for the victims’ loved ones; self-help groups; and online services. Lear also includes websites that provide relevant information for volunteer administrators, with a focus on tips, resources, and tools to assist with volunteer management in crisis-oriented settings.

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Community Mental Health Programmes and Volunteers

In the last issue of e-Volunteerism, volunteer Stephanie Myers wrote about her journey to start Mind for Athletes (M4A), an organization that helps recognize mental health issues among student athletes. e-Volunteerism has pledged to follow Myers’ efforts in future stories, but Myers’ experience immediately inspired Along the Web author Arnie Wickens to research projects around the world in which volunteers support people with mental health illnesses and related issues.

This Along the Web focuses on community mental health programmes, some of which are entirely run and led by volunteers, including volunteers who are current or past users of mental health support services themselves. While there are excellent volunteer services in mental health, not all reach out and involve people who have personal experience with such disability. So in this article, we feature those programmes that are explicitly for mental health service users and involve volunteers specifically for that purpose.

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Self-Help in Social Welfare

In 1954, the Seventh International Conference of Social Work convened in Toronto, Canada, with the theme of “Self-Help in Social Welfare.” While self-help is an important component of effective social work, it can also be seen as a challenge to the formal social work profession. The multi-day event in Toronto presented many speakers and panels in an effort to examine self-help organizations from many different perspectives, and resulted in a 342-page book known as the Proceedings of the event. In this historical Voices, we select key points made by authorities from various countries at this conference, key points that have stood the test of time.


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