Mental Health and Volunteering – The Positive Link
September 9, 2021
We often hear the mantra, ‘do good, feel good’ thrown around, but in reality, does volunteering really make you feel better about yourself?
Volunteering comes in many forms, whether it’s helping out at a soup kitchen, going on a charity trek in the mountains or coaching your son’s football team. In the UK alone, an estimated 14.2 million people volunteer at least once a month.
In a study published in 2020, in the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers examined data from nearly 70,000 research participants in the UK, who received surveys about their volunteering habits and their mental health, every two years from 1996 to 2014.
Compared to people who didn’t volunteer, people who had volunteered in the past year were more satisfied with their lives and rated their overall health as better. Additionally, the researchers found that people who volunteered more frequently experienced greater benefits: Those who volunteered at least once a month reported better mental health than participants who volunteered infrequently or not at all.
However you choose to give your free time, the benefits can be significant. On one side, you’re helping people in need, on worthwhile causes, supporting your community, and on the other, you’re finding new friends, learning skills, and improving your own mental wellbeing.
Giving your time to others can also help protect your mental and physical health. It can reduce stress, combat depression, keep you mentally stimulated, and provide a sense of purpose.
Shaista Hussain, a Special Needs Support Assistant, recently began volunteering with Salam Charity, joining a charity trek up Snowdon. For her, the pandemic has had a significant impact on her mental health, from overthinking, to becoming depressed.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it changed me for the better in so many ways. Whilst hiking, I felt focused and disciplined. You’re so in tune with your breathing, you find all your unnecessary thoughts disappear.
Now I’ve found that if I’m slightly stressed, I’ll go for a walk. Going on the hike made me appreciate all the small things in life.
It got me out of the house, and I did something different for the sake of my mental health. I felt proud to complete such a big challenge.”
But the big question is, why does volunteering affect our mental health so much? According to Ricky Lawton, associate director at Simetrica Research Consultancy and lead author of the paper, a combination of factors is likely at play. First, volunteering is rewarding. When we help others out of no benefit to ourselves, we experience a “warm glow.” Second, volunteering is likely to help boost our sense of social connection.
“The people around me supported my journey, from the staff at Salam Charity to the other hikers. I don’t think I’ll ever forget one gentleman’s kindness towards me, a complete stranger to him, but who encouraged me and offered his assistance.
It felt like a family outing more than a group of strangers together. It all makes a difference, and gives you such a boost. “
It’s clear that making new meaningful connections can take our minds off our worries, particularly when we begin to focus our attention on something or someone else. The richer the experience, the more our mood improves and our stresses reduce.
Volunteering has many more benefits, from preventing feelings of isolation, to increasing your own confidence, and simply, making you happy!
“The highlight for me was getting to the top of Snowdon. For me, it was one of the best achievements of my life!
Getting out of my bubble, doing something challenging, for both my body and mindset. From the moment I stepped out of my door in the morning, to arriving back home, every moment was a highlight. When I came home, I felt like I had come back from a holiday, and that lasted a few days!
From an Islamic perspective, volunteering is a productive form of sadaqah – not only are you benefiting others, you are also earning rewards from Allah (SWT). And for Muslims, what greater reward can there be?
Charity comes in many forms, and giving your time and effort to a good cause, is one of them.
“Collectively, the group that I was part of raised over £30,000 for a great cause, supporting vulnerable people in Pakistan, Syria and Indonesia. I feel proud to have been part of this.”
If you’re interested in volunteering with Salam Charity, whether a physical challenge, social event or offering your skills to our team, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.