I’m leaving or have left my volunteering role, what now?  

The end of an era

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Coping with leaving your volunteering role

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Being a volunteer responder is likely to have been a huge part of your life. For many of you it’s a vocation, an extended family, and a big part of your identity.

This means stopping volunteering can bring mixed emotions and there will be a sense of loss even if you’re looking forward to spending more time with family, friends, and other hobbies.

If you need to leave early because of ill health, then this can be difficult. And when your volunteering role is ending because of a psychological injury, then this can be harder still.

Coping with leaving your volunteering role

Removing your Protective Armour
Leaving your volunteering role means you take off many parts of your Protective Armour:  your uniform, professional role, sense of identity and purpose, fitness regime and camaraderie of colleagues. It can be a stressful time so it’s important you look after your physical and mental health.

Some of you will find other ways to contribute to your organisation and  community through working in other public service roles or volunteering. Others will set yourselves challenges to help you maintain your physical (and therefore mental) fitness. You can think of these are your new armour.  

As you remove your protective armour, watch out for unfinished trauma business. It is inevitable there will be some jobs that have stayed with you through your volunteering career. These may be incidents that you can talk about and remember with sadness, but there may also be jobs that haunt you and which you’ve avoided thinking about for years. If you've been doing this, then retirement is when your brain will try to process them. You’ll be dealing with old injuries without your protective armour and that can be hard.

If this is happening, please have a look at the explanation and advice on What can I do if I'm not OK? part of the site to understand what is happening and what you can do to help yourself.  

If you need help, please contact your GP or one of the services listed on the welcome page.
Leaving or retiring with an injury
Emergency responders are at risk of psychological injury, it’s an occupational hazard. And sometimes recovery depends on having no more exposure to hazardous situations.  

Leaving with any kind of injury will be hard. It’s likely being a volunteer responder is an important part of your life and you’ll miss the camaraderie and all the other positives associated with being part of your team.  But if you’re leaving because of a psychological injury then no-one may know you're injured. Unlike your employed counterparts, you have the option to simply stop volunteering. You might give another reason, perhaps citing the demands of family or work life. This secrecy, usually driven by stigma and shame, can leave you alone and isolated at a time when you really need support. We hope the information on this website helps you see that this is not your fault or a sign of weakness and that there is help available.

If you tell your colleagues and the organisation that you’re leaving because of a psychological injury, then their response is very important. Even if they’re supportive you may share feelings of failure mixed in with the loss and perhaps relief. But if you don’t feel well-supported, then this process can be extremely difficult. A sense of being let down or betrayed by your organisation (see 'moral injury' on the what can I do if I'm not ok page) is likely to make your injury worse and can lead to feelings of anger, shame, and despair. You may question the time you gave to the organisation or withdraw from fellow volunteers; losing more of your protective armour when you’re already unwell.

Where possible, try to mark the end of your service. It’s not your fault that you got injured; there should be no shame attached to leaving through psychological injury. Please get the support you need in this process.  
Celebrating your service
Rituals help us cope with change and loss, so retirement events are an important way of marking and helping the transition to life beyond your volunteering role. How does your organisation recognise the service you and your family have given to the community? Do these rituals happen for those stopping through ill health?

It is important to recognise and honour the contribution you've made.  
Coping and self-care
Make use of the information and advice in the Coping and self-care section of this site to help you through this time of change.
Accessing help and advice
You can access support through the services listed on our welcome page.