Mental Health and Volunteering

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Been suffering low moods lately? And someone’s recommended that you get out and volunteer? Do volunteering and depression have a connection, and can it help you?

Volunteering and mental health

Can volunteering help your mental health? According to research, yes. A 2020 research overview published by Volunteering Australia goes to far as to conclude that volunteering can lead you to:

How does volunteering make us feel better?

A 2019 research study at Karachi University in Pakistan looking at 50 volunteers and 50 non volunteers concluded that volunteering makes us happier chiefly as it brings more social interaction into our lives and gives us a sense of purpose.

An 2017 study from Ireland also confirmed that social interaction was a main reason that volunteering can help with depression. Although it cautions that volunteering cannot compensate for a general lack of social connectedness in your life.

Volunteering and depression - how does it work?

Again, it goes back to the social currency that volunteering brings. Connection is extremely important for fighting against depression. In fact a 2020 American study looked at over 100 factors that can help prevent depression in adults.

And what ranked as the number one strongest protective factor against suffering from depression? Social connection.

It's important to note here that social connection is more than just being around people. It's about having interactions that feel useful, or make you feel valuable. Volunteering quickly fits this bill.

Not enough time to volunteer? Think again

Convinced you can’t help out as you don’t have enough time? Even one hour a month will apparently do when it comes to mental health and volunteering.

One study found that you only need to commit to one hour a month to reap mental health benefits, and that there is no added benefit if you volunteer for over ten hours a month.

Another study showed that if you are an older adult, after 100 hours of volunteering a year, or about three hours a week, positive benefits actually tapered off.

Volunteer like you mean it

Of course volunteering simply for the selfish desire to improve yourself might not be the best approach. Do try to find a positive inspiration for your volunteering, such as working with an organisation that does something you care about.

A study on motivation and volunteering found that the more we have values-based reasons to volunteer, such as a desire to help out or to aid a cause that we feel matters? The more we are likely to feel that the experience has been a positive.

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