Mental Health

The Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering


When you volunteer to help others, you may also be helping yourself. 

Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community, learn something new, and positively impact the lives of others. But giving your time to a social cause can be beneficial for your own health as well. From discovering your purpose to relieving stress, here are some ways that community service can change your life:

Volunteering can improve your social skills.

If you struggle with making friends, volunteering can be the perfect foray into social situations. Relating to others is easier when you have a shared interest, so your mutual concern for a particular cause can be a great icebreaker. Whether you’re passionate about fighting local hunger or cleaning up the environment, you’ll be working toward the same goal as several other volunteers, connecting you to people you may have a lot common with. 

“Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills, since you are meeting regularly with a group of people with common interests,” writes Help Guide. “Once you have momentum, it’s easier to branch out and make more friends and contacts.”

Conversely, volunteering brings all different types of people together, so it provides the opportunity for you to meet people who may not normally cross your path. Widening your social circle and meeting people of all different backgrounds can give you a better understanding of the world and your community in general. 

Volunteering can help fight depression.

Volunteering makes us feel happy on a chemical level, too. Staying socially active and helping others can ward off the effects of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety

“Not only is volunteering associated with increased happiness and lower depression, but volunteering also reduces the risk of premature death by 22 percent,” according to Wake Forest University. “Humans are hard-wired for the social connections we make when volunteering. Eye contact and smiling releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps us handle stress better.”

Surrounding yourself with people who are passionate about helping others can build up your own social support network. “Volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and helps you develop a solid support system, which in turn combats against feelings of loneliness and depression,” writes

Volunteering can even heal old wounds. 

Serving others can help many people cultivate a sense of purpose and meaning in life, especially for those who have suffered trauma. 

Volunteering for a cause that is personal to you, like homelessness, addiction, or domestic violence, can help heal the effects of your past experiences. The time you spend volunteering has a lasting, positive effect on someone in need, which can build your own self confidence and remind you that you are an important part of your community.

“Thousands of survivors […] devote themselves to advocacy and peer counseling, changing their lives to serve others,” explains The Washington Post. “Their stories highlight a surprising feature of trauma: Although it makes the world seem crueler, its victims often become kinder — a phenomenon psychologists call ‘altruism born of suffering.’”

If you have a special connection to a certain cause, consider donating your time to those who have been through a similar experience as you, but only if you feel ready and well-supported to do so. Your perspective and lived experience could be inspiring to many others. 

Thinking about giving back to your community? Volunteers are an established and integral part of Sheppard Pratt’s many community-based programs. Learn more about volunteering at Sheppard Pratt today.