There is no shortage of need in our communities, especially around COVID-19. And helping others also helps ourselves. Earlier research has shown that volunteering improved depression, life satisfaction, and wellbeing. A recent study found that volunteering increases people’s sense of ‘mattering’ and boosts well-being in a time of crisis. I invited people to share their perspectives on the benefits of volunteering and how it improves mental health.
Jamie Thomas is the Executive Director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue and has seen the benefit of volunteering on depression, satisfaction and wellbeing firsthand. She is one of many people who struggle with depression, but says having animals and people depending on her to get out of bed and make change in the world has a positive impact on her life.
Thomas says, “Had I not discovered the power of volunteering, I might not be here today. The feelings of purpose and meaning I have now provide clarity that sharpens my view of why I am here, even when I may feel down or lost in the fog of depression.”
Natasha Pierre, Vice President of NAMI Hillsborough, also struggles with mental health symptoms and has firsthand experience of the benefits of volunteering. She has lived with bipolar type 2 and generalized anxiety diagnoses for over 20 years. “Volunteering is one of the best ways to alleviate depression,” says Pierre. “My motto is ‘Everyone can give something.’ I have shared with my friends that the best way to pull me out of depression is to give me an assignment; tell me how I can help.” She adds that “doing a good deed for another pulls you out of your head and reconnects you with the greater world around you.”
While volunteering may alleviate mental health symptoms, it also helps people find meaning and purpose. Thomas shared, “It is my personal belief that by finding purpose and meaning in service, we are better able connect to what it is that we are doing here...what the meaning of life is really about. By finding a place to ground yourself, you have a different perspective about the issues you face and the reality of what is truly important is clearer.”
Dr Kim Chronister, agrees that many forms of volunteering help people discover meaning and purpose. As a psychologist who treats people with addiction, she sees positive outcomes and prolonged recovery time reported by clients due to volunteering in their community. She says, “The act of philanthropy releases feel-good neurochemicals in the brain as an added bonus. Volunteering can give us a sense of meaning and purpose, connection, and activity that are essential to well-being and contentment.”
Reuben Yonatan, Founder and CEO of GetVoIP shared how volunteering helped him as a stressed CEO. “Volunteering allowed me to do something that is just as rewarding as a job, but without the pressure of success or failure. It helped me realize that although my challenges were valid, when put in context, they weren't as bad. And it made me feel good. There is a satisfaction that comes with helping someone that is difficult to replicate in any other situation.”
“If I were to hazard a reason about why volunteering felt so satisfying,” said Yonatan, “I would say that in the same way human beings are born with a need to be loved, they also have a need to be looked upon as the solvers of issues. Volunteering is the perfect platform to solve somebody else's needs.”
People need community and a strong community benefits everyone. Danielle Holly, CEO of Common Impact, said volunteering “offers a sense of community as volunteers collaborate on reaching a common goal in service to shared values or beliefs. Individually it is a chance to try new things, hone existing skills, or achieve a personal goal.”
Pointing to the benefits to mental health and the overall feeling of wellness, Thomas encourages everyone to give volunteering a try because she believes “it is truly life altering.” She adds, “if you don't feel that way, you haven't found the right mission...keep trying.”