Mental health benefits for young people: reflecting on WAVE
Barbara Gillies, occupational therapist from CAMHS, reflects on almost 20 years of working with Volunteer Edinburgh to deliver the innovative WAVE course (Ways to a Volunteering Experience).
Ways to a Volunteer Experience (WAVE) is a partnership between NHS Lothian’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), Volunteer Edinburgh, the Green Team and Friends of the Award. It has run for the past 18 years and is a core therapy offered by occupational therapists in CAMHS to young people who are recovering from mental illness.
WAVE was conceived during conversations I had with Sarah and Marion from Volunteer Edinburgh in their Easter Road office in 2003. We were brainstorming how we could improve the transition of young people out of CAMHS and into a vocational pathway via the third sector. We all agreed that volunteering offered a potential stepping stone in recovery for some young people but was often a hard thing to sell to them. We therefore agreed to run an introductory course to raise young people’s awareness of the benefits volunteering could offer.
From the outset it was decided that “taster” volunteer placements should be a key part of the WAVE course as we suspected young people would be more likely to attend something that involved ‘doing’ volunteering, rather than just hearing about it from other people. We were also keen to include peer-to-peer sharing of experiences of volunteering, as we knew from other CAMHS groups that young people were inclined to give more weight to information provided to them by other young people, rather than adults.
Our instincts proved to be correct. Post-course feedback from the 200+ young people who have attended WAVE over the years has consistently highlighted that the experiential aspects of being with other young people and doing voluntary work together has been of most benefit and value to them.
Over the years the course has gradually been crafted to expand the aspects that young people reported to be most beneficial, and the aspects that staff facilitating WAVE sessions observed to work best. Staff from the Friends of the Award joined the WAVE team to raise young people’s awareness of the Duke of Edinburgh Award and recruit potential participants.
Formalised psychological assessment questionnaires were introduced pre- and post-attendance to capture and quantify the impact of WAVE on attendees. These demonstrate that in addition to introducing young people to volunteering, the course also helps to improve young people’s feelings of social self-efficacy, social connectedness and self-esteem.
The inclusion of an initial whole-group volunteering day with the Green Team, as the first taster of volunteering, proved highly successful in helping young people get to know one another better and in building social confidence. This improved attendance at subsequent sessions. We began to realise that some of the young people attending WAVE were making friends and feeling connected to others for the first time in their lives. We quickly took up the Green Team’s offer to include a second whole-group “Reconnection” day at the end of the course to facilitate reflection on being part of WAVE. This session has become a successful addition; a space where friendships have become cemented, recent volunteering experiences (and the occasional disappointment) are recounted, celebrated, more often than not laughed about and sometimes chalked up “as an experience”!
Working with colleagues from the Third Sector every year to make WAVE happen and getting to observe the transformation in young people, as they grow in confidence and make lasting friendships, has been one of the best bits of my job as an OT and certainly one of if the most validating experiences of my career.