A man from Stroud who has been unable to work due to mental health problems is encouraging others to consider volunteering to help boost their self-esteem.

41-year-old Ben Keyte has suffered with mental health issues for the last 20 years, resulting in him being unable to run his catering and gardening business.

He joined Healthwatch Gloucestershire last year as a volunteer, helping out in the office – assisting with database entries, social media updates and short film-making. And now he believes his volunteering role will help secure a job.

Ben explained: “Volunteering with Healthwatch has given me a routine in my life, communicating with a variety of people which in turn has improved my confidence and self-esteem. I think this will help get me a job in the future as not only has it improved my skills, but I will get an up to date reference that acknowledges all of the work I have been doing with Healthwatch.

“I would encourage others, especially those with similar mental health issues to consider volunteering. If you don’t think you are ready for it, then take small steps.  You need to build your confidence and have to start somewhere. Getting involved in a support group is a good way of branching out into the voluntary sector and seeing what is out there.

“Often support groups find voluntary work for you and also get you involved in becoming a peer lead, which isn’t only empowering if you lack confidence but also gives value to your self-worth, which can improve your mental health.  Helping others in the community gives you a purpose in life and can lead to other things.”

Ben’s mental health journey began in 2001 after university and he says it was mainly stress-related at the time. He was put on medication and has been through a process of recovery and relapse. He says he is currently stable and is now moving towards being able to work again.

Ben said: “It’s quite hard for a man to talk about their personal issues and accept they have a problem.  Even now, I still sometimes struggle admitting that I have a mental health issue.  If you can’t admit you have a problem, it is quite difficult to know where to go.

“I think I have been very lucky as I found the Independence Trust and the people at Cirencester Memorial have supported me. The 2gether Mental Health team suggested I took up volunteering at Healthwatch Gloucestershire.

“It has been a positive experience and I have had a complete upwards trend in my mood since being at Healthwatch, which I can attribute to working in a busy office environment with a group of people who I get on with well and enjoy spending time with.”

Healthwatch Gloucestershire is the county’s independent health and social care champion. It exists to ensure that people are at the heart of care. Teams of staff and volunteers listen to what people like about local health and social care services, and what could be improved. These views are then shared with the decision-making organisations, so together a real difference van be made.

Volunteering roles with Healthwatch Gloucestershire vary from meeting members of the public at events and community places, to leading Enter and View inspection visits or helping out in the office with admin work.

Kay Bunyan, Volunteer Officer at Healthwatch Gloucestershire, said: “Ben came to us through the 2gether Trust Mental Health Team. Ben needed to improve his confidence and self-esteem and wanted to do some volunteering.

“It’s an absolute pleasure having him with us and we are moving forward with things far quicker, especially the filming which he has been amazing with.”

Find out more about volunteering with Healthwatch Gloucestershire by calling Kay on 01452 504989 or emailing info@healthwatchgloucestershire.co.uk or visiting www.healthwatchgloucestershire.co.uk/volunteering

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