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Volunteering makes us all feel better

25th October 2019

In the midst of all the doom and gloom and divisive bickering caused by Brexit, it’s more important than ever to recognise genuine acts of human kindness. You may well have missed the story last week about Madeleine Hayes a 14-year-old from Inverness who, for the past 3 years, has been volunteering to help disabled people learn new digital skills and access assistive technology. For this the Prime Minister awarded her the prestigious Points of Light Award, which recognises outstanding individual volunteers who contribute to positive change in their local community.

Earlier this year, YouGov conducted the largest poll on volunteering in more than a decade on behalf of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). On the back of the recent World Mental Health day (our blog here), it was interesting that 77% of the respondents said volunteering had improved their mental health. This is hugely impressive but perhaps not that surprising as volunteering is widely associated with feelings of improved confidence, belonging and a sense of making a difference. NCVO was particularly surprised by the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who found volunteering a good way of combating isolation.

While nobody should advocate that you volunteer for completely ‘selfish’ reasons (eg others will think I’m great), it is absolutely OK to do so to improve your own health and wellbeing – that is actually a win-win situation. From a personal point of view, volunteering at St Columba’s hospice helps to put any of my own personal issues in perspective and makes me appreciate what I have; and that’s so valuable, even if it’s only for a short period. 

Two days ago we were told that the number of anti-depressant prescriptions has risen by 48% in Scotland in the last decade. People in deprived communities are more likely to be prescribed anti-depressants, and incidentally are also the least likely to take part in volunteering, which let’s face it, is still perceived as an activity for the middle/upper classes.    

While I readily recognise that anti-depressants can and do lift people out of despair and provide much needed benefit in the short term, the rise of UK wide initiatives such as social prescribing, illustrate the willingness to consider a range of approaches to improving mental health conditions. In time it would be great to see volunteering get the recognition it deserves as a form of therapy – by helping others you yourself will benefit from feeling more confident and better mentally – and physically. 

Go on try it…