When I lived in London, I used to volunteer at an aged care facility roughly once a month. The aptly named — but sadly, now-defunct — organisation was called Cocktails in Care Homes. Unsurprisingly, it involved having cocktails with older folk, alongside dancing, singing and playing games. Overall, it was an absolute joy. And as someone with depression, joy can be difficult to come by.
The benefits of volunteering go far beyond my anecdotal evidence, however. In fact, one systematic review, commissioned by Volunteering England, found the health benefits — including mental health benefits — of volunteering were endless.
Volunteering was shown to decrease mortality, improve self-rated health, mental health, life satisfaction, social interaction, healthy behaviours and coping ability. Also, those who used the service also benefited from volunteers — increased self-esteem, disease management and acceptance, healthy behaviours and more.
So yeah, it’s pretty easy to say volunteering can positively impact your sense of purpose and wellbeing. If you’re still looking to be convinced — or you want to know how to volunteer — The Latch spoke to psychotherapist Josh Rosenthal.
How does volunteering benefit the wider community?
Not-for-profit organisations can’t exist without volunteer work, according to Rosenthal. “Without volunteers, organisations like Salvos Stores, would not be able to operate.” And from that, “many members of the community would be impacted by the lack of support”.
Although monetary contributions are, of course, important, “lending your time can be a really valuable contribution to your world around you.” In addition to this, “It truly does take a village to keep the world moving in a positive and functional way.”
How does volunteering benefit an individual?
“Volunteering your time to organisations can support you being a more active member of your community. It’s also a way to provide mental stimulation, which is critical for all well functioning members of our community,” explained Rosenthal.
In addition to this, volunteering truly does have mental health benefits. “A lot of people I work with find [it] can also help ease stress and anxiety.” Oh, and it can broaden your skillset in “unexpected ways” — ways that could be helpful to professional opportunities.
What are the mental health benefits of volunteering?
When talking to his clients about personal struggles, one thing Rosenthal talks to them about is “to give back to those less fortunate.” Or, a phrase you may have also heard — community service.
“It really is a powerful way to benefit both the volunteer and those they’re helping.” Stronger social skills and networks are another beneficial side effect of volunteering — both things Rosenthal claims are “totally critical to someone’s mental health and self-esteem”.
According to him, there are actually some studies that back up these benefits. More specifically, “that say giving back can work with the reward centres of the brain.”
How do you overcome shyness or anxiety when it comes to volunteering?
Shyness and anxiety are pretty common — we’re all introverts after this last year, let’s be real. As Rosenthal says “Doing something new, throwing yourself into an environment you’re not familiar with can be totally overwhelming.”
However, there’s a “huge amount of research” that shows volunteering your time to others can be a great way to overcome shyness, ease anxiety and enable you to get comfortable in the uncomfortable.
Although the commitment to turning up to something new can “feel daunting at first”, once you’ve done it a few times “you’ll be a lot more comfortable in yourself.” Beyond this, Rosenthal says you’ll also be “more connected with yourself, your community and even a new set of friends.”
And if you’re wondering how to seek out volunteering options, hop online and search for an organisation you’re interested in. “A few hours of your time can make a huge difference.”
Rosenthal recommends checking out the Salvos Stores website — register your details and skill set, and they’ll find a volunteer role best suited to you.