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Can Volunteering Strengthen My Mental Health?

By: Zana Van Der Smissen

As human beings, we are always trying to find activities and hobbies that can be helpful to our mental health. We talk about self-care and how we can include it in our daily routine. Whether it’s taking a bath, making ourselves a homemade meal, or even talking to an old friend on the phone, we want to try to be intentional about how we use our time. One of the forms of self-care that isn’t as highlighted is volunteering so today I will be talking about the benefits of this activity on our mental health and what you can do locally in the Chicagoland area. 

Most recently a study came out in the Journal of Happiness where 70,000 participants from the United Kingdom were given a survey every 2 years for 18 years on their volunteering activities and their mental health symptoms (Hopper, 2020). The results found two main outcomes; 1) those who volunteered compared to those who didn’t report better mental health and higher life satisfaction and 2) the more frequently the individuals volunteered, the better they reported their mental health (Hopper, 2020). With this research being done pre-pandemic, we can see how volunteering can also be even more beneficial with re-connecting with others, community, and social interaction. 

Now that we know the research behind volunteering being helpful to our mental health, we need to understand more as to why that is. Firstly, volunteering focuses on connection. When we are volunteering, we are focusing on other people and their needs. By doing so, we can relieve stress, build a support system, combat depression, and build up new skills. Now you might be wondering how volunteering helps with all those symptoms of mental health? Well while we are doing activities related to giving, we are more likely to secrete the ‘Happiness Trifecta’; Dopamine, Serotonin, and Oxytocin (Ritvo, 2014). By producing more of any of those three hormones, we experience a boost in our mood which has a ripple effect. A boost in our mood can provide us with an increase in self-confidence, a sense of purpose in life and improve our overall physical health. 

With that being said, where in Chicago can you start volunteering on a more frequent basis? Here is a list of places that are allowing volunteers currently post-pandemic: 

  • Chicago Cares is an organization that connects community partnerships from the Chicago West and Southside to the community’s values and goals.
  • The City of Chicago has volunteer opportunities for different city programs that meet different community needs. This can be related to Animal care, Rebuilding neighborhoods, Climate change, etc. 
  • One Good Deed Chicago is specifically a program that aims to give back to the youth and allows individuals to volunteer to become mentors. 
  • Feed my Starving Children is a nationwide organization that helps pack meals for families and children in developing countries. 
  • Ronald McDonald House is an organization that helps families stay together while their children receive treatment at nearby hospitals. There are multiple volunteering opportunities you can do within the house through making meals, playing alongside the kids, and donating various goods. They have multiple locations around the country. 

These are only a few of the opportunities that are available at the moment as more restrictions are lifted from COVID-19. Volunteering can look different for every individual so look for something that speaks to you and that you find interesting! It will make the experience that much more rewarding for you. Hopefully, volunteering can be a new activity that you can include in your routine that allows you to give back and improve your own quality of life. 

Hopper, E. (2020). How Volunteering Can Help Your Mental Health. Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_volunteering_can_help_your_mental_health

Ritvo, E. (2014). The Neuroscience of Giving. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/vitality/201404/the-neuroscience-giving

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