Importance: Volunteering is an activity that facilitates social welfare, a sense of connection to others, and the construction of links with other people and the community.
Objective: To describe the experience of a group of people with serious mental illness (SMI) who engaged in community volunteer work.
Design: Qualitative, phenomenological study using purposeful sampling and an inductive thematic analysis.
Setting: Several mental health community centers in Madrid and Catalonia, Spain.
Participants: People with SMI engaged in community volunteer work.
Outcomes and Measures: In-depth interviews were used to collect data.
Results: Two themes, with four subthemes each, emerged from the data: (1) engaging in a meaningful occupation enhances the recovery process (subthemes: undergoing positive experiences, performing or resuming a meaningful occupation, living in the present moment, and relating with one’s social and family environment) and (2) a process of mutual support (subthemes: in helping others, you help yourself; helping others on the basis of one’s first-person experience; recover before you can help others; and role of professionals in volunteering).
Conclusions and Relevance: Volunteering is perceived as a meaningful occupation. Helping others generates a reciprocal benefit that favors the recovery process and contributes to the establishment of personal and social bonds.
What This Article Adds: This study provides a basis for understanding the potential of volunteering to be a meaningful occupation in the recovery process of people with SMI. It can help occupational therapy practitioners develop volunteer-based intervention programs that support the recovery process.