The Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering

By Charity Diaz, LMSW

The month of April is National Volunteer Month, a time that recognizes the dedication of volunteers and their collective social impact.  In my experience, volunteerism is a gratifying way to step outside of oneself and express compassion to strangers in need while teaching them new hard skills.  These skills include learning to read, mastering the English language, preparing for employment readiness, becoming an American citizen, navigating technology, and many more.  It could also be a simple soft skill such as serving a hot meal to guests in a soup kitchen, engaging in conversation, and sharing a laugh together. These interactions are about the altruism in teaching a fellow human being the accomplishment of grasping a new skill or the nourishment of a hearty meal.  However, the interaction of volunteering is also very much about the human connection, the teaching component, and the mental health benefits.

The teaching component of the skills that are taught to strangers – and witnessing them acquire those skills – are a personal triple reward.  The first part of the reward is somewhat selfish as it merely makes you feel superficially good. However, this leads to the second part of the reward — the depth of feelings one experiences with the following seven mental health benefits of volunteering:

  1. Reduces Anxiety and Stress: it can help reduce stress and allows you to re-shift your anxious and/or stressful mindset to a meaningful experience which may improve your mood.  

  2. Combats the Risk of Depression: along with the professional mental health support you might receive, it can counteract the negative thoughts and destructive habits that you might otherwise engage in.  

  3. Prevents Feelings of Isolation: it can help you feel less alone by participating in fun, shared, and thoughtful activities, and creating a sense of community.  

  4. Increases Confidence: it may empower your sense of self, and in turn, increase your self-confidence.

  5. Gives a Sense of Purpose and Meaning: it can provide a sense of purpose and meaning in your life which may add fulfillment and joy.

  6. Ignites Passion: it allows you to share your gifts and also explore new gifts while engaging interpersonally with passion.  

  7. Makes You Happy: it will release endorphins, triggering happy and positive feelings.

The third part of the reward is the pleasure of being a support to your fellow human beings and seeing them evolve, grow, and hopefully continue to flourish in the world.  Get out there and volunteer, your community needs you!

Charity Diaz is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are looking for support in finding solutions to enhance your overall wellness, contact Cobb Psychotherapy by calling 718-260-6042 or emailing reception@cobbpsychotherapy.com, and see how therapy can help.

Elizabeth Cobb