Community Mental Health Journal

, Volume 55, Issue 2, pp 271–278 | Cite as

Volunteering to Care for People with Severe Mental Illness: A Qualitative Study of the Significance of Professional and Private Life Experience

  • Lisbeth ØrtenbladEmail author
  • Ulla Væggemose
  • Lene Gissel
  • Nina Konstantin Nissen
Original Paper


Challenges in recruiting volunteers encountered by psychiatric services are barely elucidated despite a general societal increase in volunteering. The aim of the study was to explore the significance of professional and private life experiences in willingness to volunteer to care for people with severe mental illness. Focus group interviews with volunteers in the Community Family Programme was conducted, followed by thematic analysis. All interviewees had professional and/or private experience of SMI, which had a major influence on their initial willingness to volunteer. Volunteering was an opportunity to pass on their experiences and to care for SMI people in ways that were not possible in their professions. The interviewees did not distinguish between the influences of professional and/or private life experiences on their willingness to volunteer. The study demonstrates the importance of professional and/or private life experiences in initial considerations about volunteering for mental health care. The consequences for recruitment practices are discussed.


Severe mental illness Community psychiatry Social psychiatry Volunteering Community family programme Qualitative research 



The study is based on an implementation project conducted in co-operation between the public sector and civil society, funded by The National Board of Social Sciences, Denmark. The authors wish to thank the volunteer families for their willingness to share their experiences. We also acknowledge the municipal mental health workers for their assistance in providing contact to the interviewees. Finally, we thank Dr.Med.Sci. Jørgen Aagaard, Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark, for initiating research regarding “The Community Family Programme”.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest with respect to the research, authorship of the article, and funding.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The research project is registered with the Danish Data Protection Agency. Danish legislation requires no official ethical approval for studies not involving examination of human or biological material (National Committee on Health Research Ethics).

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

All interviewees were informed about the purpose of the study and use of the interviews, and provided written consent for participation prior to inclusion in the study. They received a gift voucher (value approx. €40) as appreciation for their participation. Interviewees have been anonymized.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Public Health and Health Services ResearchDEFACTUM, Central Denmark RegionAarhus NDenmark

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