Praxis Care Volunteering – ‘More than just a CV booster’

QUB Medical Student Shauna tells us about her experience as a Volunteer with Praxis Care Befriending and the impact it has had on both her Praxis Care friend as well as on her own medical career.

Praxis Care Befriending is funded by the Big Lottery Fund as part of the Together For You project which delivers mental health and wellbeing projects to a range of people across Northern Ireland.

  • Tell us a little about yourself? Your name, where do you volunteer, how long have you been a volunteer, why did you get involved?

"My name is Shauna Wood and I am a medical student at QUB. I have a keen interest in mental health and am currently considering a career in Psychiatry. This has led me to complete an additional degree in Psychology, which I have just finished. When I found out that the Psychology timetable would afford me with a bit more time, I decided to explore the area of mental health to find out what it was really about. Additional work experience or internships are extremely hard to come by in the field of medicine and in particular psychiatry, but I was desperate for some “hands on experience”.

"I had been a befriender to a young girl with Downs Syndrome throughout my time at school and I had found it a really rewarding experience. So after hearing about Praxis Care Befriending at Queen’s Volunteer Week last year, I believed it was the perfect fit for me and signed myself up! I have since made a wonderful new friend who I see on a regular basis. We enjoy catching up over a cup of tea and dandering around the shops."

  • What do you enjoy most about volunteering with Praxis Care? What are the highlights?

"I love volunteering with Praxis Care, but I believe that my new friend has helped me, as much as I have helped her. I came to Praxis with a desire to gain “hands on experience” in caring for someone with a mental illness. My medical lectures had taught me the basics of the signs and symptoms of different mental disorders, and I had memorised all the drug names and their adverse effects. When my friend complained about how sleepy and lethargic her new tablets were making her, I was able to explain to her why and how it happened. It was great to be able to see and use my medical knowledge first hand!

But being a befriender with Praxis Care has not only reinforced things I have already learnt, it has given me a whole new outlook on mental health. It’s an outlook I would have never gained from work experience or clinical placements because it’s not from the perspective of a doctor, it’s from the perspective of a patient. I have been lucky that my friend talks so openly about her treatment and struggles. She has told me how frightening it is to hear voices in her head, how unhomely the psychiatric units are, and how unfair it is to sometimes have no choice in her care.

I believe that mental healthcare can and should be so much better. I’ve learned that it’s less about the drugs and diagnoses and more about the person. My experience with Praxis will allow me to truly empathise with future patients and has inspired me not only to work in the field of mental health, but to improve it."

  • What would you say to someone who is considering getting involved as a volunteer?

"Volunteering as a befriender is different from other volunteering. It’s not just a CV booster. You will be directly making a real difference to someone’s life, improving their confidence and showing them support in just an hour or so a week. At times it can be challenging, there may be periods in hospital or times when your friend doesn’t feel like talking about it. But we all know that having a supportive friend is sometimes what gets us through."

"By being a befriender, you will also develop new skills in communication, empathy and active listening which are beneficial both for personal and professional development. I would whole heartedly encourage others with an interest in the area of mental health to get involved. You will learn things that can’t be found in any book or lecture theatre and it’s a unique opportunity to gain some real experience. Being a Praxis Care volunteer is truly rewarding, but the best part about it all is gaining a new friend."

If you are interested in getting involved as a Befriending Volunteer with Praxis Care please get in touch with Catherine – volunteering@praxiscare.org.uk / 028 9072 7161 or sign up on our website www.praxiscare.org.uk

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