A study published in the journal BMJ Open, finds that volunteering in middle and older age is associated with enhanced mental health.
For the study, Dr. Faiza Tabassum of the Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute and colleagues at the University of Southampton used data from an annual national British survey of 5,000 households. The survey included a wide range of questions on leisure time activities, which covered the frequency of formal volunteering, whether at least once a week, several times a year, once a year or less, or never. Participants were also asked questions meant to measure their mental health and well-being.
The results showed that overall, people who volunteered had a better mental health and well-being score than those who didn’t. The average score was higher among those who said they volunteered frequently.
The findings held up even after the researchers controlled for a number of other factors, including marital status, educational level, social class, and physical health.
“Being engaged in routine activities, an emotional feeling that you’re giving to other people, and the fact that you are feeling better about yourself by being productive and giving back, these are some of the psychological benefits of volunteering,” Dr. Dimitris Kiosses, geriatric psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, told CBS News.
The authors emphasize that the research is observational and does not prove that volunteering directly causes improvements in mental health and well-being. Still, they say the study suggests volunteering may play a meaningful role in mental well-being at certain stages of life.
“With the aging of the population, it is imperative to develop effective health promotion for this last third of life, so that those living longer are healthier,” Tabassum said. “Volunteering might provide those groups with greater opportunities for beneficial activities and social contacts, which in turn may have protective effects on health status and help people manage depression and anxiety.”