Keen to volunteer for mental health? Consider becoming "Avie"
In 2020, I was a fresh graduate searching for something to do when I stumbled across a recruitment for volunteers on Facebook for OTR Listens, the text-based chat support service of Over The Rainbow (OTR), which promotes mental wellness as a top priority especially among the youth.
I was surprised to see an online chat-based volunteering service for mental health in Singapore, given what I felt was a lack of action around mental health issues pre-pandemic.
With a considerable amount of anxiety, I submitted my application. I didn’t really know what to expect. While I had volunteered for mental health groups during my university years overseas, I had expected things to be slightly different in Singapore, given our conservative culture and approach to many things.
To my pleasant surprise, everyone was really open and willing to listen during the Zoom training. It made me feel very comfortable and welcomed, even when I introduced myself and shared my own journey in mental health.
Since then, for a little over a year, I have been chatting as “Avie,” OTR Listen’s persona of an empathetic listening ear. I have spoken with many different Seekers. During this period, I myself have also dealt with several life changes, and it has both informed my approach to chatting as Avie as well as made me more aware of the lessons that I have learned from volunteering with OTR Listens:
(1) It helps to simply have a listening ear. Often, we just need to be able to tell our stories to someone who is non-judgmental. It can make a huge difference.
(2) Asking the right questions is important, but empathy is even more so. We as Listeners might get so absorbed in asking questions in order to probe for information that we forget what we are there for, which is to hold a space for our Seekers to share their pain.
(3) There are many people out there who are seeking help, and there is more we can do as a society even if we are not “professionals.” There seems to be a mindset that only those who have been trained can help people in need, and that the responsibility falls solely on them. In reality, anyone who works as a mental health professional will tell you how important it is for individuals who are struggling, even for those without diagnoses, to have adequate social support in difficult times. What we do as Avie is only a small part of it.
As a Listener, we are exposed to individuals from different walks of life, and it has been a rewarding experience for me. I always end up finding out more about myself. Occasionally, there will be certain issues that make me uncomfortable. This not only raises my attention to the issue, but also challenges my ability to keep myself aware and in check when I am speaking to Seekers as Avie. This has helped me, interestingly, to better manage my own emotions and thoughts as well. It is a healthy challenge for those who are up for it.
If you are thinking of joining OTR Listens (which you totally should), here are three pieces of advice:
It might seem daunting at first, and you might be afraid that you are not asking the right questions. There really aren’t any kind of “right” and “wrong” questions — and the small handful of questions you should avoid will be highlighted during training. There is a lot of training and support provided, and you will always have someone senior to consult during your shift.
Even if you know nothing, if you are willing to learn, the OTR Listens mentors and S-Listeners are always there to teach and support you.
Lastly, to those who need a listening ear: We are always here, and you are never a burden.
In 2019, Our Better World told the story of Over the Rainbow, the initiative that provides free mental wellness resources to youth. In 2021, Over the Rainbow started OTR Listens, their text-based support service for youth on mental health and wellness.