In these days of busy, stressful lives, where one in four people suffer from mental health issues like depression and anxiety, it’s heartening to know that there are alternative solutions that don’t involve medication or therapy. Volunteering to help others can reduce stress, combat depression, keep you mentally stimulated, and provide a sense of purpose.

 Yes, it’s true I’ve seen and experienced it myself.  

For over 30 years, I have had the pleasure to be involved in volunteering. I have volunteered myself, worked with volunteers, provided training and support, and managed volunteers. Currently I head up volunteering in Quarriers (a social care organisation) providing strategic leadership vision and direction.

Quarriers is all about transforming lives, providing practical care and support for vulnerable children, adults and families who face extremely challenging circumstances. Through our diverse range of services across Scotland we help thousands of people to lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

Central to that support is the role of volunteers. Quarriers volunteers provide Counselling, Befriending, Mentoring, Driving, Tutoring, Gardening, DIY, Administration, Board of Trustees and many other roles.

Through these roles I see a “double whammy” of not only transforming the lives of the people we support, but also those who provide that support through volunteering.

Studies have shown that nearly half of regular volunteers say that volunteering makes them feel less depressed. Volunteering provide structure, direction, meaningful activity, a sense of purpose and achievement, interest and improved confidence and self-esteem.

 My own experience backs that up, whether speaking directly to volunteers, feedback from satisfaction surveys or in workgroups. Numerous volunteers have said they felt happier, healthier and more fulfilled due to their role with Quarriers.

“I continue to feel less anxious and volunteering helps me deal with my depression”

“Focusing on others helped me feel less stressed about things in my life. As well as helping people in community it helped me”.

“It is a pleasure to volunteer for them, they have helped me regain my confidence.”

“(Volunteering has) encouraged me to apply for a HNC Social Care course and helped me through the learning process as due to my health (chronic depression) I been out of fulltime education for so long .”

“Everyone is very friendly and staff very supportive and encouraging.  When I was ill they sent a get well card and kept in touch.” 

“I felt accepted onto the team from day one with staff including me in their work and social circle”.  “Quarries have been a life line for me when I felt at my lowest.

Words such as feeling good, having fun, a focus in life, uplifting, made a difference, are some of the many positive phrases I hear from our volunteers all the time.  Volunteering also provides structure, an opportunity to learn new skills, share existing ones, be valued, appreciated, have fun and do something of personal interest.

Yes, I know, WOW!!!!

Of course, we must ensure that volunteers are undertaking the right role for them and that we allow them appropriate flexibility and support. There is a clear link between social integration and wellbeing particularly in older volunteers

So, does volunteering make a difference to mental health and wellbeing? Well, you know my thoughts.  I think I will end with this final moving and inspiring statement from one of our volunteers and let you decide:

“Since volunteering I feel better both in my mind and body. If anyone had told me that before I would never have believed them.  Volunteering changed my life for the better or maybe even saved it.  I would say to people volunteer, do something you think you will enjoy, you won’t regret it.”

Volunteers Week Scot runs from 1 – 7 June 2019 – find out more!