Student volunteers help to support the recovery of mental health patients

People with complex mental health problems are being supported in their recovery thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of student volunteers. 

For the past 20 years kind-hearted students from Bangor University have volunteered their time to run various therapeutic groups for patients on Ysbyty Gwynedd’s Hergest Mental Health Unit.

In doing so, they have gained valuable volunteering experience and developed their skills, with some even going on to gain employment on the unit. 

The 40 bed unit provides inpatient treatment for adults in Gwynedd and Anglesey who have a range of mental health problems.

Amongst the activities supported by student volunteers is a walking group, which enables patients to gain valuable time away from hospital and an opportunity to reconnect with their local community.

In addition, the university has previously provided a qualified gym instructor and eager volunteers to help facilitate physical exercise sessions which research has proven to benefit people living with mental health problems.

The longest running group sees students visit the unit twice a week to provide a range of activities including craft sessions, therapeutic massage treatments, cooking sessions and a variety of games.

Catrin Roberts was inspired to take up a career in mental health after regularly volunteering at the Hergest Unit whilst studying towards a degree in Sociology, Criminology and Criminal Justice at Bangor University, which she graduated from in 2014. Catrin has been employed as an Activity Nurse since 2016. She said:

“The student visits have continuously proven popular among patients who are offered a range of activities during sessions. Most importantly what the group offers are friendly volunteers, light hearted conversation and a sense of normality.

“This group of volunteers offer time for patients with no agenda other than to be kind, welcoming and non-judgemental. 

“Having previously volunteered for the evening group myself during my undergraduate studies, I know myself how rewarding it is.” 

Catrin and other Hergest Unit volunteers were recognised for their efforts at last year’s Bangor University Student Union awards.

Third year Psychology students Poppy Rucki and Emma Nwanze have volunteered on the Hergest Unit for the past two years. 

Poppy said: “It’s so rewarding not only for us but also for service users. It’s lovely for them to see new faces and to be given an opportunity to get out of a ward environment and try something new.”

Emma added: “We put on activities like bingo and quizzes to try and get patients to interact and engage with each other. Since we’ve been here we’ve seen patients come and go. It’s very rewarding to know that patients have received the help they needed and have moved on.

“Most Psychology jobs require a certain amount of experience and being an undergraduate it’s difficult to get that experience. Doing a volunteer project like this really helps to give you an understanding of what it’s like to work with people with mental health problems.”

Bangor University students can register an interest in a number of volunteering opportunities on the Undeb Bangor website:

Publication date: 5 February 2018