How volunteering impacts mental health

Two people wearing shirt reading Volunteer pack boxes onto a hand cart.

Volunteer work makes a big difference in people’s lives, while also positively affecting your own mental health. Volunteering gives people a sense of achievement, fulfillment and positivity, releasing dopamine and leading to happiness.

“In the time we spend serving other people, dopamine is released,” said Dr. Asim Shah, professor and executive vice chair in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor. “The appreciation you get from other people means something and that causes stress-reducing effects.”

People with self-esteem issues might get a confidence-boost through volunteer work. But in addition to the individual effects, serving others creates change in society. People choose to volunteer not for anything in return, but to help others. Shah explains that educated, flourishing nations put an emphasis on volunteer work.

“Educated societies focus a lot on volunteering. Without volunteering, successful, educated societies cannot blossom,” he said. “Volunteering is the essence of a good society.”

Those who are interested in volunteering but have not engaged in volunteer work should look into community resources for places to serve. Everyone has different skills, so try to apply those to volunteer work, such as volunteering at a hospital, nursing home, park, school or place of worship. Volunteer work even entails helping individuals in the community, such as taking your elderly neighbor to their doctor’s appointment.  There are multiple outlets for volunteering, so choose something that fits you.

Many organizations streamline volunteering, such as offering volunteer time off. Your workplace or school might provide a list of several volunteer opportunities. Shah emphasizes the importance of doing your research ahead of time. Take a friend with you, especially if you plan to volunteer in an unfamiliar location.

“Not only does volunteering have mental and physical health benefits; it also brings a positive sense in society that people are there to help each other without anything in return,” Shah said.

Find a list of local volunteer opportunities here.

By Homa Warren

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