Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering

“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”  – Oscar Wilde (1)

For some people, this time of year marks the beginning of the holiday season.  This can involve giving and receiving gifts, time, generosity, and other practices.

While people may have heard about the benefits of altruism, what does the research say?

After looking 9631 papers, the authors(2,3) identified and reviewed 40 research studies looking at the impact of volunteering on physical and mental health of the volunteers.

Who were the participants? (2)

Participants varied in age, but reached several thousand across different types of studies (2).

What were the results? (2)

Volunteering had a favorable effect on depression, life satisfaction and well-being in the large cohort type studies with lengthy follow up (2; 4-8).

What are some caveats?

  • The exact relationship between health benefits and volunteering remains complex and many factors may be involved (3).
  • There are many types of volunteer activities.
  • Further research is needed to understand motivating factors, frequency, dose, type of volunteering, etc. that provides the most health benefits.

What are come campus resources on Volunteering?

How does volunteering impact you?  Can helping others help YOU feel better?

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

References:

  1. https://discovercorps.com/blog/50-inspirational-quotes-volunteering/
  2. Jenkinson CE, Dickens AP, Jones K, et al. Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health. 2013;13:773. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-773.
  3. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/01/generosity-health_n_4323727.html
  4. Konrath S, Fuhrel-Forbis A, Lou A, Brown S: Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults. Health Psychol. 2012, 31: 87-96.
  5. Ayalon L: Volunteering as a predictor of all-cause mortality: what aspects of volunteering really matter?. Int Psychogeriatr. 2008, 20: 1000-1013.
  6. Harris AHS, Thoresen CE: Volunteering is associated with delayed mortality in older people: analysis of the longitudinal study of aging. J Health Psychol. 2005, 10: 739-752. 10.1177/1359105305057310.
  7. Jung Y, Gruenewald TL, Seeman T, Sarkisian C: Productive activities and development of frailty in older adults. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2010, 65B: 256-261. 10.1093/geronb/gbp105.
  8. Oman D, Thoresen CE, McMahon K: Volunteerism and mortality among the community-dwelling elderly. J Health Psychol. 1999, 4: 301-316.

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