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The benefits of volunteering

Yeesi's volunteer Hannah 30.7.2019

For many, the idea of volunteering abroad can seem quite daunting. Change, new situations and the unknown can be scary for everyone, especially for those who suffer a mental illness. However, I’ve found that volunteering can also be extremely liberating. After spending two months volunteering in Poland I felt happier, more relaxed and more able to communicate with others. I think that often we forget that breaking out of our routine, placing ourselves in new positions and opening ourselves up to new opportunities can offer us so much joy and freedom. Opportunities like volunteering cannot only help others but also ourselves, our own self-motivated therapy. Here are some of the reasons I believe that volunteering can increase our happiness and improve our mental health.

Firstly, volunteering gives us a purpose. Usually volunteers are needed for very important reasons, whether those would be to help others or to help our planet. Sometimes we may feel as though we aren’t truly doing anything meaningful, perhaps if you are unemployed or in a job where you can’t see the outcome or benefits. This feeling of meaningless or unimportance can demotivate us and decrease our idea of self-worth. However, knowing that your work can have a big impact on others can give you energy, enthusiasm and more self-confidence. This is especially true if you volunteer for a cause that you are passionate about and there are endless options for you to choose from. Volunteering can also lead to job opportunities, either directly through that company or access to other sectors due to the skills and experience you have gained.

Another reason volunteering can improve mental health is that it exposes you to situations you may find uncomfortable. Part of a mental illness, especially with phobias, is avoidance. Avoiding situations that scare us such as going to a new place or meeting new people may seem like the easiest and best option, but in fact it is the worst thing that we can do. By exposing ourselves to a situation which is out of our comfort zone, we are slowly challenging any irrational thoughts we may have. Of course, this should be approached carefully and quite slowly, but if there is a part of you which desires to do something and believes that despite the fear, you could manage, then why not go for it? Perhaps take a friend or family member with you or volunteer in your own country first. After leaving your comfort zone you can feel perhaps some pride and confidence and it will be easier for you to leave that comfort zone next time. In the majority of organisations, volunteers will have access to any support that they may need. From volunteering, I have gained so much self-confidence as I have achieved things, I never thought I would and used skills I never knew I had.

Socialising is usually an important part of volunteering. Whether this is between volunteers, the people in charge of the organisations or the people we are helping. Talking to others is known to make us feel happier, more relaxed and gives us a better attitude. Usually volunteer projects attract lots of different people from many countries. This not only allows you to gain new perspectives but also helps to make you feel less judged and decreases the need to conform, as everyone will be very different. Especially if being in another country where the ‘norms’ are perhaps not the same as where you came from.  This can be a nice break from a daily life as it allows a sense of freedom. I felt as though I could be myself more on volunteer projects as I didn’t feel any judgement towards me.

These are just a few of the many benefits of volunteering. Having a mental illness can make me feel trapped and incapable of being ‘normal’. Doing volunteering reminds me that mental illnesses do not define me, nor should they stop me from living the life I dream of. This sense of community and purpose from volunteering can show us that despite our struggles, we are valid members of society and we can achieve things that are important to us.