Guest blog by Mark Pearce, Chief Executive Officer – Volunteering Australia
Volunteering: Bringing people together
This year’s National Volunteer Week theme is ‘Better Together’, which recognises volunteering brings people together; it builds communities and creates a better society for everyone. Given the last couple of years we have all experienced, I think it’s more important than ever to celebrate the value that volunteering brings to our lives and communities.
But why is volunteering so good for us?
Evidence continues to demonstrate the mental health and wellbeing benefits of volunteering including combating social isolation and loneliness. Volunteering Australia’s ‘Evidence Insights: Volunteering and mental health’, reviews research on the effects of volunteering on mental health. It draws upon local and international studies focusing on the effects of volunteering on the mental health of volunteers themselves.
The research paper lists seven key insights:
1: Volunteering is associated with better perceived mental health and quality of life.
2: Volunteering supports mental health by increasing psychological and social capital.
3: The mental health benefits of volunteering vary among groups.
4: Type of volunteering activity has not been found to affect mental health outcomes.
5: The extent to which volunteers experience mental health benefits depends on their motivation to volunteer and satisfaction with the volunteering experience.
6: Volunteering can play a strong role in mental health recovery.
7: In some situations, volunteering activity can have mental health risks. Volunteers experience slightly different mental health impacts than paid staff.
The research found the key mechanisms which link volunteering activity to better mental health are social interaction and sense of purpose. Volunteering correlates with greater self-assessed psychological wellbeing, self-esteem, happiness, and satisfaction with life, with lower symptoms of depression and anxiety, and with lower indicators of suicide risk. Satisfaction with the volunteering experience is associated with higher perceived wellbeing and social connectedness.
What about during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Research from Volunteering Australia and the Australian National University showed that volunteers had a higher level of life satisfaction prior to COVID-19 than non-volunteers. The impact of COVID-19 on life satisfaction and loneliness varied by volunteering behaviour over the period, with those who managed to continue volunteering during COVID-19 faring much better.
The report ‘Continuity and change: volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic’ goes beyond the data and aims to provide a more detailed portrayal of the volunteering experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based on 800 qualitative responses gathered as part of the Life in Australia™ survey, the research reveals a striking picture of diversity and resilience. Volunteers were asked to describe how volunteering during the pandemic impacted their life in general.
People who volunteered at the same frequency or more often in the 12 months prior to April 2021 than they had before, were more likely to report positive experiences of volunteering, while those who volunteered less were more likely to report negative experiences.
Many volunteers had positive experiences, reporting that their voluntary work helped them maintain a connection with others, kept them active and busy, and gave them a sense of purpose. Volunteers also emphasised the benefits of using or gaining new skills and the opportunity to understand others.
These positive experiences demonstrate the capacity of volunteering to facilitate social connection and improve wellbeing.
You too can enjoy the benefits of volunteering
I am passionate about volunteering and its power to support communities and improve our health and wellbeing. This National Volunteer Week I encourage everyone to enjoy the many benefits of volunteering by giving their time and skills to help others. To start your volunteer journey, visit GoVolunteer.com.au or contact your local State or Territory volunteering peak body.
Volunteering Australia is the national peak body for volunteering, working to advance volunteering in the Australian community.