According to Dr. William Rush Dunton, founder of occupational therapy, “meaningful occupation heals mind, body, and spirit.” Volunteering is one of the most meaningful ways to occupy oneself. However, many overlook the mental health benefits that volunteering offers the volunteer. Here are a few of the ways that volunteering even a few hours of time can be beneficial.

Social Connection

Many volunteer roles involve working with other people toward similar goals. Connecting with others in this way can help to decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation. It can also be a way to meet like-minded people with values and interests that align with your own. For someone who is shy, it may be easier to find a topic of conversation if you share common interests and experiences. You may also find that you can make deeper personal connections with others who share your values. You never know where these new connections may lead. 

Meaning and Purpose

Volunteer roles can help people to feel like they are making a meaningful contribution to a cause that is important to them, and changing the world for the better in some way. Contributing in this way can be a powerful experience, and can add a sense of purpose to your everyday life. And, dedicating your talents to a cause that is personally meaningful to you can contribute to a life worth living.

Using Strengths and Skills

Volunteering can be an opportunity to use your skills and strengths. Often times when someone is suffering from mental illness, they lose touch with their own strengths and skills. Volunteering can help a person reconnect with past skills, or help them to develop new skills. Developing new skills can help a person to branch outside of his or her comfort zone. Making connections through volunteering can also lead to other opportunities, such as paid positions or networking leads. 

Mood Improvement

Volunteering has the capacity to elicit a healthier mood. By helping others, you can accumulate positive emotions and build resilience to negative emotions. When someone is struggling with low mood, it can be challenging for them to think about volunteering. If they strive to get involved, it has the potential to help them build confidence and self-esteem.

Life Balance

Everyday demands and priorities often make it challenging to create and maintain a healthy life balance. Volunteering can help shift the balance by turning your attention towards personal growth and fulfillment. This brings balance back to an even keel, which can lower stress levels and generate increased feelings of peace and serenity. Engaging in a healthy balance of life roles, such as volunteer, professional, family member, and hobbyist promotes optimal health and well-being. When you volunteer your time and talent, you may reap the benefits as much as the people you are helping.


Terry Marvel, CTRS, is the Health and Wellness Coordinator at The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt. Melissa Flanders, OTR/L, is an Occupational Therapist at The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt.

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