Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering

Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering

 Research from the University of Exeter Medical School in the UK has provided strong evidence that volunteering is good for your physical health, and it may be good for your mental health, too.

Observational results from the review confirm what research has been saying for many years: volunteering is almost certainly good for you. A longer lifespan may be one of the benefits of giving back. When researchers compared a group of volunteers and a group who didn’t volunteer, the volunteer group had a twenty-percent reduction in mortality rates. And the volunteers reported less anxiety and depression, and better overall mental health.

The reason for volunteering and the general attitude about it may play a part in whether the volunteer finds any relief from a mental illness or gets a boost in overall health. People who give their time in order to fulfill an obligation or gain some sort of work or practical experience may enjoy the benefits more because they feel they’re getting something from the act.

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Those who volunteer for purely altruistic reasons may also feel less anxiety and fewer symptoms of a mental illness while they give of themselves, as well. But some people may feel like they’re not getting anything out of volunteering, and they may start to feel burdened. Some can even experience a sense of their lives being limited by the time they spend volunteering. This can strip the joy and purpose from helping others and counter any positive effects.

Earlier research and studies on the health benefits of volunteering, like the 2013 publication from UnitedHealth Group and the 2007 study from the Corporation for National and Community Service, point out the same general benefits–better mood, less stress, and overall improved physical and mental health. Much of the results from those publications were based on research and narrative evidence. But the Exeter study pulled together information from over two dozen cohort studies and clinical trials in 40 papers to arrive at their findings.

Further study has been recommended, because the cause and effect between volunteering and improved physical and mental health isn’t completely clear. Researchers admit that people who are in better health and who have fewer problems with mental illness and anxiety may be the ones more likely to volunteer in the first place. Those people may not be gaining as much longevity from volunteering as the evidence seems to suggest.

Still, getting out of the house and being social are clear reasons why overall health might improve. Doing something good for someone can certainly make a person feel better about life in general, which can, in turn, decrease anxiety and improve overall mental health.