As the project co-ordinator on Time Together, TimeBank’s volunteer mentoring project that supports refugees and asylum seekers living in the UK, I come into contact with some extremely resilient and sometimes vulnerable adults who are feeling incredibly isolated.
Living on limited resources and having limited opportunities for social interaction with local people can cause mental distress to our beneficiaries. This can be for a number of reasons, such as language barriers, financial difficulties, being new to the UK or being moved yet again to a strange town or city, or residual mental health problems caused by their experiences of persecution or living in a war zone.
One thing that is apparent when I first meet them is their need to talk to someone whose attention is undivided and who is willing to give them time, whether for just one hour a week or two hours every other week. Some of our volunteer mentors have had some very emotionally draining mentoring sessions. Others have felt as though they haven’t really done that much to help their mentee. Yet just meeting and talking over a cup of tea or coffee on a regular basis is all that some of our mentees require.
The power of talking to someone who isn’t connected to any other aspect of their lives can help alleviate feelings of anxiety, stress and loneliness. I attend the first meeting with our volunteer mentors and mentees to introduce them to each other and to get a conversation going. After 20 minutes or so I leave them to it. I always glance back before I go and often notice the body language and demeanour of our mentee is much more relaxed than at that first meeting.
Time Together fits well with Time to Talk Day, a campaign tasked with raising awareness and encouraging conversations around mental health. Taking the time to talk to each other about our mental health and wellbeing is a great way to prevent stigmatising and further isolating people with symptoms of mental ill health.
If you’d like to know more about our Time Together project, do take a look here.