Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Volunteering Improves Mental Health

Altruistic volunteering is beneficial for mental health.
There are several mechanisms by which this could happen:

1) the experience of giving one's time and energy for another in need is an intrinsic life joy
2) there are opportunities to build new friendships, with others who also are "practicing altruists"
3) the experience may allow you to discover new aspects of yourself, in terms of skills, pleasures, ambitions, etc.
4) the structure of the volunteer experience may be a "benevolent structure" motivating action in your day, challenging depressive symptoms which might keep you inactive or alone

Here is some evidence from the literature:

{this 2008 study from a gerontology journal, shows that people in their 60's who volunteer moderately have higher levels of well-being, after controlling for variables such as educational level, physical health, etc. People who didn't volunteer, or people who volunteered "too much", had lower levels of well-being}

{a 2008 study from the London School of Economics, showing that there is a direct causal relationship between volunteering and happiness; weekly volunteering increases the likelihood of being "very happy" by 16%, independent of income level--the data also suggest that the effect is more pronounced for people who volunteer more frequently}

{a 2001 study looking at data from 2681 people, showing that volunteering is associated with increased well-being in numerous domains, including happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and depression}

{a 1998 study showing that volunteering bolsters well-being in elderly persons who volunteer; also the people who are helped by the volunteers had reduced amounts of depression}

I think there should be some more prospective, randomized studies of volunteering and other altruistic activity in the treatment of mental illnesses.

If you are interested in volunteering in Vancouver, here is a place to start looking:


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