Volunteering helps boost mental health, especially among seniors who give back.
Volunteering helps the people and communities served, of course, but research shows that it also has both physical and mental health benefits for everyone involved, especially those giving back. Those who volunteer are given a sense of purpose and build resiliency through their efforts. This, in turn, improves their overall well-being.
AmeriCorps, the organization that conducted the research, is one that tackles the nation’s pressing challenges by allowing individuals of all ages to participate in community building activities.
Atalaya Sergi, director of AmeriCorps Seniors, was excited about the result of the research stating, “We’re really excited about these dual benefits for our older adults.” Sergi added, “It showed that 88% of volunteers reported a decrease in feelings of isolation, 84% reported improved or stable health at a time when we would think that their health would be declining.”
Moreover, the survey showed that “80% of the volunteers” could see “a significant positive impact on their physical and mental health after a year of service.”
The elderly usually have low social contact and physical activity. By involving themselves in activities like volunteering they’re able to find an environment where they are both socially and physically active. Sergi emphasizes the dual benefits for people by saying, “While they are serving others, they are also benefiting from the service they’re doing.”
Volunteering is all about giving – it is a feel-good way of serving others. According to Harvard Health, endorphins are the “brain’s natural pain reliever” and they are released while helping or doing something else one enjoys. Volunteers feel this benefit because they are offering aid, and thus, doing something worthwhile for someone who needs it.
Volunteering involves activities like food distribution and the distribution of other vital resources, engaging individuals who do not have a support system, offering needed services and more. When the volunteers get involved in activities that are physical, even if it’s just walking around and talking to people, they benefit from the activeness of the position. They also benefit from social engagement, connection and networking with others.
Sergi said, “We work with Coming of Age. It’s through the Texas Department of Health. Those volunteers help mentor children and youth. They support nutrition and food distribution and engage families in activities to really help increase their quality of life.”
Research by Mayo Clinic has also found that volunteering helps one’s physical and psychological health, and this is something that is commonly suggested in a therapeutic setting to bolster positive feelings about self. A 2020 study conducted in the United Kingdom also found those who volunteered reported “being more satisfied with their lives and rated their overall health as better.” Respondents who volunteered for “at least one month” also reported “having better mental health than those who did not volunteer.”
Of course, the elderly are not the only ones who benefit but volunteering can be particularly impactful for this group because they tend to be retired and more prone to inactivity and isolation. Giving back is a holistic alternative to medication and helps communities – and those in them – to thrive.