An Untapped Resource
John D. Weaver
821 Lincoln Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362.
Constructive activity often plays a key role in the recovery process for persons with depression and other serious forms of mental illness. For some, volunteering will lead to gainful employment, allowing them to come off of welfare and/or disability roles. For others who may never be able to hold real jobs, it is simply a way to add some meaningful activity to their days. Either way, it enhances the quality of their lives.
Mental health professionals are increasingly looking toward volunteerism as a way to increase socialization and vocational opportunities for their clients. This book was developed to aid those who recruit, coordinate, and manage volunteers, but who are often unfamiliar with how to deal with persons having various types of mental illness.
While doing some private consulting with a local volunteer center, I discovered the staff was reacting with fear whenever someone who was in treatment for mental illness came to them seeking a volunteer placement. Once their fears took over, they were loosing their ability to do a good placement interview and, sometimes, overlooking the work potential in folks who would make wonderful volunteers.
I developed a training program that offers volunteer coordinators an overview of the types of mental illness, warning signs, patterns of decompensation, and hints on how to improve their interviews. I stressed that the vast majority of mentally ill persons are not at all dangerous to others. Still, I also offered participants crisis intervention techniques and a "controlled interview process" (passive, non-threatening, but clearly maintaining interviewer control of a situation) to help insure that effective placements were being made, while safety and quality were assured.
The local consulting and subsequent training programs led to a presentation I was invited to make at the June, 1991 Annual Conference of The National Volunteer Center. That conference, Addressing Tomorrow's Problems Today, was held in Nashville. At that conference I was fortunate enough to meet Nancy Macduff, a prominent speaker, author, and publisher on volunteer topics. We spoke about my work and she subsequently published the paper I presented as a short book.