The mental health benefits of volunteering
Volunteering is a known way to meaningfully contribute to your community. By volunteering, you can help your community thrive, and assist people in need. Less recognised are the benefits volunteering gives to those who are doing it – and those can be enormous. In fact, research shows that being a volunteer can positively benefit your mental health.
One study published in 2020 by the Journal of Happiness Studies examined data from nearly 70,000 people regarding their volunteering habits and their mental health. People who volunteered in the past year, as opposed to those who didn’t, reported greater life satisfaction and better overall health. On top of that, volunteering more frequently (at least once a month) was related to better mental health than those who volunteered less frequently.
You might wonder – but were these people already happy? Perhaps happy people are more likely to volunteer. When taking into account participants initial levels of wellbeing prior to starting volunteering, a boost in mental health was still seen. This means that people who started to volunteer became happier over time – it really does seem to be volunteering that boosts mental health!
So, how does volunteering benefit mental wellbeing?
Volunteering can give you a new group to socialise with. This can be especially important for introverts, people who are isolated, or those with social anxiety. Volunteering provides an opportunity to increase social skills and social connections. Volunteering connects you with people who share a common interest, and is a great way to make new friends or even strengthen existing friendships.
Volunteering provides a sense of purpose. Feeling that you are contributing in a meaningful way can reduce feelings of depression and increase feelings of happiness, accomplishment and self-esteem. It can be a way to further explore your interests and passions. Doing volunteer work you find meaningful can give you a sense of creativity and motivation.
Volunteering has been found to improve physical health. Studies show that volunteering can reduce the risk of heart disease and lessen chronic pain. Older volunteers are less likely to develop high blood pressure and display better cognitive skills. Volunteering can keep you mentally stimulated.
Volunteering may even help you advance your career. You could get experience in a field you are interested in and networking opportunities. By volunteering, you build important professional workplace skills such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, and organisation. Volunteering may even lead to leadership opportunities.
Anxiety NZ would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the great volunteers who have helped us thrive and support people across Aotearoa New Zealand! We have amazing volunteers who come and help out at our clinic, and who answer calls on our helpline. Thank you for your time and dedication. Kia kaha!