Can volunteering be good for our mental health?

In the busy world we live in, giving up your precious free time can be seen as a luxury that many people just do not have, but instead of having a negative impact on an already full life, could carrying out a volunteering role actually be good for our mental health? Mental health can be defined as a term referring to a person’s cognitive, behavioural and emotional wellbeing; how we think, feel and behave. A positive effect on it could include a person feeling more included within society and generally happier within themselves. Everyone would experience such effects from different things occurring within their lives, but volunteering is definitely something that I think has the potential to be a vital part of making our society happier and healthier, but many people may not even know that it is an option for them.

What is volunteering?

The act of volunteering is when a person gives up their time to help an individual or an organisation, but it is not something that a person is made to do, or is done for financial gain. The gains from doing so are about giving something back to society, gaining new skills and experiences, and meeting new people. There are thousands of different volunteering roles to choose from in the UK, and even in the world, some which could play to a person’s strengths (such as carrying out administration for a charity if a person has good organisational skills), or could allow a person to explore something new that is completely out of their comfort zone (such as taking part in events that focus on a skill they need developing such as talking to new people). There are so many different types of roles ready to be undertaken.

What are the benefits of volunteering?

From a young age, I was taught that volunteering looks good on a CV and can give a person another aspect to talk about in a job interview. I do believe those things to be true, but in my experience too much emphasise was put on how a volunteering role could look to the outside world and not enough was put on how it could benefit an organisation or the people who actually carry out the volunteering. Having spent time carrying out various volunteering roles over the years, I now understand how it can be a mutually beneficial experience, and the impact on a CV can just be an afterthought, depending on the reasons for volunteering in the first place. As well as the vast amount of organisations benefitting from volunteers, which would probably be unable to run without them in many cases, the focus on volunteering can also be on how the volunteer can potentially feel, which at this time, in my opinion, is just as important in terms of mental health as it is in any other way.


It has been found that over nine million people in the UK (nearly a fifth of the overall population) say they are always or often lonely; while feeling lonely isn’t a mental health problem in itself, both are strongly linked as either one can affect the other. Personally, I find this statistic shocking – we live in a world where it is easier than ever to contact people, yet so many feel lonely. I think this gives evidence to how face-to-face communications are still deemed as being beneficial to human interactions, because why is this figure so high when social media is used to so many people? Social media allows people to communicate and share information using the internet or mobile phones, but by using such devices it takes away from seeing and/or talking to people in real life. Carrying out a volunteering role is a way in which this can happen and therefore can help to reduce loneliness. Volunteering is now one of the community-led approaches that can lead to improving mental health, and can hopefully have an impact on bringing that staggering figure down.

What is so good about volunteering?

Depending on a person’s reason for initially volunteering will most likely affect the way they generally feel about the role. A student who needs to achieve a certain amount of volunteering hours for an award, or to gain the required amount of hours to be accepted onto an employment scheme or university course may focus on what they are learning and taking from the experience as well as the interactions they have within it. A person who volunteers for just the social aspect may have a slightly different take on such a role, but both sets of people will gain something as well as give something back to the organisation they are with. Volunteering can often allow a look into a different area of society which may have not been recognised by a person before. For example, volunteering for a homeless charity may enable a volunteer to understand the reality and background of rough sleepers that they may not have thought about before. As well as understanding different people’s lives, many other benefits can be found just by interacting with different people, perhaps leading to a more wholesome outlook on life.

In a world where people can so easily sit behind a screen all day and interact with people via social media and the internet, I think it is comforting to know that there is a huge area of social interaction waiting to be used. The act of volunteering can be beneficial in a variety of ways, with the interaction side being a big part of it, but an impact on a person’s overall mental health can be made through this and the many other positives that can come from helping an organisation. Giving back to the community can make a person feel good about themselves in general, but depending on a person’s own circumstances, it has the potential to do so much more. How a person thinks, feels, and behaves is due to a number of things going on in their lives, but volunteering has the potential to be good for our mental health, it is just finding the right opportunity and having the time to carry out the role that needs to be considered.

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach