Mental Health Disclosures by Volunteers

Our friends in the Amongst Us group on LinkedIn (which you should join if you direct a volunteer abroad program—email me for an invitation if you’re not a member yet) started a discussion recently about mental health disclosures by volunteers, and I wanted to open it up here as well.

As a volunteer applies for your program, how do you—or do you at all—require them to disclose mental health conditions or history? And how do you work with those volunteers who encounter related issues while abroad?

So far the comments have varied on the types of disclosure required (either by the volunteer himself or from a doctor or therapist), but a common thread in the discussion is that regardless of the process, there always will be some exceptional, rare cases that arise once the volunteer is in the field.

From my perspective, we saw this in Peace Corps as well. With a six- to nine-month average application with the majority of time spent on evaluating mental and physical well-being, we had arguably one of the most stringent application processes out there. Even so, we still had the occasional trainee decide “This absolutely is not for me,” and head home even before swearing in. And we had the occasional volunteer who’d decide the same thing months or even more than a year into service.

So friends: have any thoughts on the topic? How do you try to ensure your volunteers and programs are well matched—either before or during service?

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