Volunteering & Mental Health Benefits
In addition to the obvious positive impact of helping others, volunteering can offer many mental health benefits to the volunteer. While volunteering won’t cure serious mental health ailments, in conjunction with other mental health treatments, it can provide a significant mental health boost to participants.
How Does Volunteering Benefit Mental Health?
Research shows that individuals who volunteer tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who don’t. In addition, people who volunteer at least once a month frequently report better mental health than those who volunteer infrequently.
Meanwhile, volunteering may help people reduce the symptoms of various mental health conditions, such as:
There is a direct correlation between depression and fatigue. Depression can cause people to experience ongoing feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness. It can also result in fatigue and other physical symptoms.
By volunteering, people coping with depression can help others and help themselves at the same time. Volunteering offers a golden opportunity to commit time, energy, and resources to help others. It can provide the volunteer with a sense of purpose and accomplishment, allowing them to feel appreciated and needed. As such, volunteering can help people alleviate their depression symptoms.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD can happen on its own or in conjunction with depression. People dealing with GAD may constantly worry about things beyond their control. They can have trouble concentrating or feel irritable due to persistent fears as well.
Volunteering gives people opportunities to develop meaningful connections with others. These connections foster social engagement, which can help relieve stress. Particularly for older adults and seniors, these human connections can help fight the social isolation that is often prevalent after life transitions.
Individuals coping with anxiety can volunteer to work with pets and other animals, too. Contact with pets has been proven to reduce anxiety and stress; even observing fish in an aquarium can be calming.
It is natural to experience stress at different points in life. Stress occurs when people face challenges or threats. In these instances, people may start to sweat, feel their muscles tense up, and experience other physical reactions.
Volunteering can lower stress levels. The act of volunteering can trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gets released when the brain expects a reward. As people volunteer, they feel good about themselves and the work they’re doing. This can help to boost their dopamine levels and mitigate stress.
While volunteering can help people manage the symptoms associated with any of the aforementioned mental health conditions, if someone is struggling with a mental health issue, they also require appropriate medical medical evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. They can work with their doctor to determine the best course of action to manage their mental health and wellness.
Volunteering as Part of a Mental Health Treatment Plan
Many mental health treatment options exist that can mitigate the causes and effects of a mental illness or disorder.
In specific instances and under the supervision of a mental health professional(s), a treatment plan often includes many different therapeutic options over the course of time. Some of the more common elements include:
- Psychotherapy: Meeting with a mental health professional to understand mental health problems and find safe and healthy ways to cope with them.
- Prescription Medicine: Relieves the symptoms of a mental health disorder.
- Support Groups: People learn from others and work together, to better understand and manage individual issues, and provide support to each another.
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for mental health disorders. A full mental health assessment by a doctor(s) or specialist should result in a recommendation of appropriate treatment options. Consideration of how to incorporate volunteering into a mental health treatment plan can then take place.
Ultimately, volunteering can help to improve mental wellbeing in many instances, but it shouldn’t be the sole solution to address a mental health disorder. Those who work with a doctor can find the best way to integrate volunteering into their wellness planning.
Managing the Mental Wellbeing of Volunteers
Volunteering can help individuals feel their best. Conversely, it can lead to burnout among those who try to do too much during their volunteer work.
Burnout can occur if someone overcommits to volunteering. In this scenario, an individual may start to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of volunteer work that he or she needs to complete. At this point, a volunteer can start to feel mentally and physically exhausted.
Volunteers and organizations which depend upon volunteers, should learn as much as possible about burnout. These learnings should be incorporated into the development of a volunteer recruitment and retention program to help volunteers guard against this issue.
From an organizational standpoint, the need for expressing gratitude and appreciation to volunteers should be obvious. Knowing their work is valued can help them feel positively about their volunteer experience. It may even lead them to continue to volunteer.
Providing volunteers with resources to teach them about the value of taking care of their mental health is critical. This ensures that they can identify the symptoms of a developing mental health issue and get help as needed.
A clear understanding of the relationship between volunteering and mental health is key. People who understand this relationship are well-equipped to realize the full benefits of volunteering. Tasks that are a good fit with the volunteer’s needs, interests, and abilities, can result in helping others and boosting their own mental health and wellness.
Note: You may also be interested in this related mental health article, Hiding the Pain – 8 Reasons Why.
*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical or mental health advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified physician or mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. In the event of a medical emergency, call a doctor or 911 immediately. This website does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the Site or on other websites it links to. Reliance on any information provided by this website or other websites it links to, is solely at your own risk.*