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Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry

VOLUME: volunteering in mental health


People who have psychosis can be vulnerable to becoming socially isolated and they can have poorer mental and physical health. In the UK there are many schemes run by both NHS and voluntary organisations that pair a volunteer with someone who has a mental illness, engaging them in social activities in order to reduce their isolation. Volunteers usually spend 1-2 hours a week with the person over the period of a year or more.

The VOLUME project was funded to explore how effective these volunteering schemes may be in encouraging people with psychosis to engage in social activities in their local community.

Research questions

  • Can pairing a volunteer with a person with psychosis for one year help that person engage in more social activities?

Research activities

  • We have interviewed 62 volunteers and people with psychosis who are involved in existing schemes to find out how these relationships work, why people choose to volunteer in mental health and what benefits both sides of the partnership derive from the relationship.
  • We have interviewed 20 volunteer coordinators and 20 volunteers to explore how best to manage a volunteering scheme, and produced a competency framework based on these data to guide recruitment and training of volunteers.
  • We have designed a randomised controlled trial to test what the impact of a volunteering scheme will be on people with psychosis.

Early conclusions

  • Based on the interviews we have done so far, we have anecdotal evidence to suggest that the support of a volunteer can have a positive impact on someone with a mental illness. Schemes may be managed in different ways and we are currently looking into how best to do this for our volunteers in the VOLUME research trial. Once the trial is complete in 2017, we will have scientific evidence as to whether pairing someone with mental illness with a volunteer improves their situation.


Dr Hana Pavlickova

Claudia Gulea

Megan Cassidy

Paula John

Eoin Golden

 Prof. Stefan Priebe

Associated papers

Thompson, R., Valenti, E., Siette, J., & Priebe, S. (2015). To befriend, or to be a friend: a systematic review of the meaning and practice of ‘befriending’ in mental health care. Journal of Mental Health, in press.


 National Institute for Health Research, Programme Grant for Applied Research

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