The mental health benefits of volunteering with a community or nonprofit organization has been well documented. According to ableto.com, a leading provider of virtual behavioral health, the seven mental health benefits of volunteering are:
- Reduces Stress.
- Combats Depression.
- Prevents Feelings of Isolation.
- Increases Confidence.
- Gives a Sense of Purpose and Meaning.
- Ignites Passion.
- Makes You Happy.
Of course, volunteering benefits even those with mental health issues, although it presents its own challenges and obstacles.
According to the Institute for Volunteering Research, the most common effects of mental illness reported by volunteers with such issues are: unemployment, lack of confidence and motivation, inability to concentrate, difficulties in trusting people and thereby making friends, experiencing feelings of isolation, frustration and anxiety. Some of these effects can also be due, in whole or in part, to the chosen treatment or some medications.
Rosanna Tarsiero, author and advocate for volunteers with mental health issues, writes that statistics also tell us that disability is not the main outcome of mental illness and that persons with mental illness do much better when involved in a social web of relationships.
“Involving volunteers with mental illness can be a win-win situation for your program and these volunteers,” writes Tarsiero, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder early in her life, but because of the stigma she faced, became an advocate for those with mental health issues. “Your program needs very committed and diverse volunteers, while they need a community that is able to involve them in order to feel better. In fact, these people come to volunteering in search of a way to enhance their self-esteem and find some friends, in an attempt to escape the isolation that is so characteristic of people with mental illness. There are many benefits for volunteers, staff and volunteer managers working with this population.”
Author Gabriella Civico, writing in e-volunteerism.com, writes that “Social prescribing” can be a means for tackling poor mental health. Social prescribing can cover a wide array of activities and programs, ranging from physical activities such as dance classes through culture programs and volunteering.
“As research proves that volunteering has a positive impact on mental health, volunteering has become an efficient and increasingly popular way of addressing health and well-being concerns and a part of social prescribing schemes,” she writes. “Participating in volunteering activities in the framework of social prescribing is especially beneficial for patients with mental health issues, and/or suffer from loneliness and isolation, perhaps caused by physical illnesses or other social issues.”
In fact, Civico explains that volunteering is an important part of social prescribing schemes for patients.
“Social prescribing leads to patients requiring less on-going support and enables them to contribute to an important cause, often continuing to support it even after the prescribed period ends,” she writes. “In this way, social prescribing has a positive impact on society as well as the patients.”
At Interim, people with mental illness are encouraged to try both employment and volunteer work. Many of Interim’s volunteers gain valuable experience that then helps them move to paid employment.
Interim strongly believes in employment for mental health consumers. There are over 50 mental health consumers employed by Interim in agency operations and services. Consumers work in treatment programs, homeless services and full-service partnerships. They provide connection and positive models for people working towards recovery.
We are thankful to the many mental health consumers who help to make Interim a strong community resource by using their knowledge, skills and passion to help others in the community.