1st – 7th June was Volunteer Week.
Volunteers are often the unsung heroes that make the world a better place and do so without asking for a penny so it’s quite right we should celebrate them and promote it.
Here, I’m going to talk about another advantage of volunteering that we all could do with more of: better emotional wellbeing and mental health.
So what are positive effects of volunteering on mental health and emotional wellbeing?
It goes without saying that it feels good do something good.
Volunteering can be a great way to gradually build back a sense of purpose and activity back into your life, especially if this is something that has been missing due to mental illness. It’s one of the easiest and simplest things we can do for our emotional wellbeing.
Recovery from mental illness has shown to be improved by volunteering. A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principle is Behavioural Activation. Behavioural Activation is the process of gradually building back activity into someone’s day to increase mood, motivation and wellbeing. It is boosted in effectiveness if that activity a) makes you feel good b) makes others feel good and c) has a sense of achievement. Volunteering activities hit all 3 points, a trifecta of effectiveness, if you will.
Research has shown us that volunteering reduces reported stress levels, improves positive self talk and feelings of self worth and self esteem and can actually help you live longer. Studies have shown that those who regularly get involved with altruistic activities have longer life spans than those who don’t.
Volunteering can also be a great bridge for someone to reintegrate back into the community if they have been out of work due to mental illness, it can be a good way to re-socialise and get ‘back up to speed’ before they return to work, making the transition smoother. Volunteering is increasingly being built into mental health and addiction rehab programmes to build confidence, resilience and self esteem
Furthermore, volunteering is becoming a popular way for people to combat loneliness or make new friends if they relocate.
Volunteering doesn’t just have to be with people, our animal friends also need your help too. Again there’s a strong research base here too. Working with and caring for animals has been shown to reduce blood pressure, increase serotonin production, reduces anxiety, lifts mood and improve our empathy. I mean lets face it; do you really need an excuse to spend your time with the cute animals of the world?
There really are so many positives to be said for volunteering and the benefits are immediate. Sure you might not get paid with money, but the benefits you do gain from it are priceless.
Volunteering In Medway
In what may come as a surprise to some, Medway has a strong volunteer network that is always busy and always seeking helping hands. Medway has some of the biggest areas of need in the South East and year on year the number of people requiring help increases, which ultimately means more volunteers are needed to help those in need.
If you live in Medway you may have seen some wonderful folks in hi-vis jackets working along the roads picking litter up recently. There’s a worldwide trend at the moment on social media called #trashtag where people display their hard work clearing litter up and making the world a more beautiful place. There has recently been the Medway Great Spring Clean throughout March and April which was hugely successful. Perhaps one of the best well known litter picking groups is that of Walderslade and Lordswood. They meet every 1st Saturday of the month at 9am in Taddington Woods Lane at the junction with Papion Grove. All the equipment you need is supplied. They really do a great job and the sense of wellbeing from physically seeing all your hard work in bags as well as knowing you’ve helped the environment really is beneficial.
Below are just 3 of many volunteering resources in Medway where you can see what opportunities are available and learn more about how you can benefit the community and better your mental health:
If you fancy the double whammy of not only improving your own mental health, but the mental health of others, there are many mental health charities and NHS services looking for volunteers. A recent study by Mind found that 89% of its volunteers said helping the mental health charity builds their own confidence, improved their mental health, allows them to develop new skills, and provides work experience.
If there’s something you fancy doing but can’t find it in the links, it’s always worth asking around or going on individual charity websites to see available opportunities.
Lauren Heritage is a mental health professional born and raised in Medway. She wants Medway to be the best it can be and is growing more exasperated by the day with politics. She likes to travel, enjoys good food, is a scuba diver, and a wannabe pilot.