When Andrew Woods started volunteering with CMHA BC a year and a half ago, he didn’t know where the opportunity might lead.
At the time, he was in recovery from mental illness, having spent much time in the hospital for OCD, schizoaffective disorder and substance use. He didn’t have any particular goals in mind; he was just looking for an opportunity to get involved with the community.
“It was the next step in terms of what they call ‘activation’—of reintegrating into society from what was pretty much ten years in and out of hospital,” he says.
Because Andrew had his own lived experience of mental illness and substance use, volunteering with CMHA BC struck him as a logical fit.
During his first few months, he worked mainly in the information and referral office, providing guidance to people who’d written in with questions about their own mental health and available resources.
Gradually, Andrew broadened his portfolio, dipping his toes into projects with the fundraising and public policy offices. He says that this process helped him gain useful career experience, particularly as he had missed out on internship and work opportunities in university while recovering from his mental illness.
“When you get sick so young you don’t have the chance to enter the workplace, so you’re not familiar with the culture,” he says.
“It’s definitely helped me become familiar with workplace etiquette and also develop a portfolio and skills.”
Over time, Andrew began to focus on communications-oriented projects – an area of interest for him that draws on his background in writing and business administration. Today, his efforts have resulted in a portfolio that includes an impressive number of blog entries, writing projects, and even a piece in the popular magazine Psychology Today.
Although Andrew recommends volunteering with CMHA BC to anyone with an interest in mental health, he particularly emphasizes the importance of volunteering for those in recovery who may be searching for purpose and fulfillment.
“I would highlight the importance of getting out of your comfort zone, and the incredible things that are possible just by stepping out the door, going about your day and pushing your limits a bit.”
“It’s just been one kind of great journey.”