Throughout my life, I’ve seen the difference volunteering efforts can make in people’s lives. I know the personal value of service as a local volunteer.

– Jimmy Carter

This is a powerful statement for someone like Jimmy Carter to make whose life has included 4 years as President of the USA and 40 years expressing his Christian faith by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

Let us reflect on the second half of Carter’s statement – the personal value of volunteer service and specifically the mental health benefits.

Generally speaking, volunteering is great for mental health. Some data published by Volunteering Australia in 2021 showed volunteering can improve wellbeing, self-esteem and happiness while reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety and reducing the risk of suicide. Much of this article reflects on the insights in this research.

We’re not entirely sure why volunteering is good for mental health but our best guess is that it primarily comes through social interaction and a sense of purpose. This means that if you are thinking of volunteering do so for a cause you are passionate about and in a way that is the optimal level of social interaction for your personality.

We know that the mental health benefit is greater for people who are struggling the most. This means that if you are already doing well then volunteering may not make much difference, however, if you are struggling with low life-satisfaction, unemployment, chronic health condition or disability then the impact of volunteering on your mental health may be quite significant.

There is a wonderful irony that those who experience the most benefit from volunteering are those who are motivated by helping others. I am reminded of the wisdom from Proverbs 11 “One person gives freely, yet gains even more”. This is a helpful self-check for those considering volunteering. Ask yourself “am I doing this for the right reasons?”

Finally, volunteering, like all good things should be taken in moderation. Whilst for some people their volunteering becomes their identity and an all consuming escape from reality, it remains generally the case that for most people it is a great way of improving mental health.

Dr Shannon Hood is the Executive Director of Wellbeing Services at Empatia. He is a past volunteer board member for Habitat for Humanity Australia, spent 13 years as a volunteer with the SA SES and currently volunteers with his local Rural Fire Brigade

The majority of people at 1WAY FM are volunteers! The radio station cannot survive without the time and passion of our amazing volunteers. If you are considering giving your time by volunteering, please consider applying to volunteer below.