Kind-hearted volunteers create the vital bedrock that supports many organisations in doing their great work. And it turns out that sparing some time to help others is also very beneficial to our own mental health
For countless charities across the country, the value of financial donations cannot be underestimated. However, it is the time of volunteers that is truly priceless.
Indeed, many of the causes featured in Happiful need more of our time to help them continue their work. But they aren’t the only ones who benefit, as volunteering can help our own wellbeing too.
Research from Mind found that 89% of its volunteers said helping the mental health charity builds their own confidence, allows them to develop new skills, and provides work experience.
Mind employs 3,347 people – but relies on support from a further 9,481 volunteers. So never underestimate the role you can play to help keep charities and schemes afloat, while supporting your own mental health.
Here are three reasons why you should consider volunteering, and how it could give you that wellbeing boost as an added bonus:
1. The happiness effect
Researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE) believe they have found a pretty simple formula: the more we volunteer, the happier we are likely to be.
The LSE found that compared to people who never volunteer, feeling “very happy” increased by 7% among those giving their time to support causes every month. For those volunteering every two to four weeks, there was a 12% increase. For those volunteering every week, feeling “very happy” increased by 16%.
Just 200 hours of volunteering per year could lower your blood pressure, according to one expert. Even half that time shows clear health benefits. How can this be? A Harvard Medical School study suggests that if you worry about not being physically active, then volunteer work is a good option. Rodlescia Sneed, an assistant professor in public health at Michigan State University, said: “Many people find volunteer work to be helpful with stress reduction, and we know that stress is strongly linked to health outcomes.”
What’s more, who said it’s only about volunteering with humans? Numerous studies reveal that spending time with a dog or cat can top up our levels of serotonin and dopamine, to help keep us happy. Donating your time to an animal charity could be a good place to start.
2. Sense of purpose
When we are at a low ebb, meaning and purpose can be difficult to find, which can put us at risk of feeling lonely and isolated. Yet volunteering for a few hours a week can fill that void. No matter who you are, there are plenty of ways to give your life new meaning by helping others.
This is supported in a blog post from mental health charity SANE, highlighting “loss of social roles” as a consequence of isolation.
According to the blog: “Volunteering can help to alleviate and reverse any such negative impact resulting from the breakdown of social integration associated with mental illness.”
Isolation is commonly associated with older generations, but think again. The Community Life Survey, looking at trends in areas like volunteering, found those aged 16–24 were the most likely to report feeling lonely, while those aged 25–34 came next.
The National Council For Voluntary Organisations revealed that significant numbers of young people are taking action to resolve this loneliness by volunteering, with 20% of 16 to 25-year-olds giving some of their time to causes once a month.
3. A bit of perspective
Many of us may not be aware of the impact a different perspective can have on our life and our health.
Providing a helping hand to those less fortunate than us is cathartic, and can lead us to realise how lucky we are. The ultimate aim is not to feel worse, but for us to have a more positive outlook.
If this has motivated you to volunteer, then consider some sound advice from the Mental Health Foundation. Make sure you’re giving your time in a sector you enjoy. Interested in sports, arts, or health? There are plenty of causes out there for you. Remember, you are putting the needs of others before your own – but don’t overdo it. Work out a schedule you can keep to.
Finally, keeping a diary of your volunteering can serve as a reminder of the good you are doing when you feel down.
How to get involved
There are many ways you can get involved in volunteering and help to make a difference in your community. For more information, visit the National Council For Voluntary Organisations at ncvo.org.uk