Can volunteering help your mental health?

Mental health volunteering. A volunteer and a rainbow drawing.

We often receive feedback from our volunteers here at African Adventures, much of which we find incredibly motivating, gratifying, and humbling. Some of the testimonials we receive are particularly poignant when it comes to the last point on that list.

For one family, the experience of volunteering in Kenya had an enormous impact. In one of our previous blog posts, Hayley Newman spoke of her decision to embark on a trip with us following her eldest son and husband’s previous visit to Nakuru, saying:

“ I wanted to share in the experience that had helped our eldest son, who has suffered from suicidal feelings, see that life is worth living. I wanted to give something back to say thank you for making our son feel that he mattered, and that he could use his plumbing skills to make a difference to others. I was very proud to see his plumbing work in Kenya and hear other volunteers who he had travelled with speak so highly of him.”

The Newman family very kindly allowed us to share this deeply personal feedback in the hope that it would show others how volunteering helped their son through a hard period in his life, and the wish that his story would have a positive impact on others who may be struggling with their mental health.

Today is World Mental Health Day – a day to raise awareness of the importance of looking after your mental health and wellbeing, and the profound impact that talking about mental health issues can have on those struggling. As people across the country have spoken out in support of the cause, it got us thinking – could volunteering have a positive impact on mental health?

Another piece of feedback we received from one of our volunteers certainly suggests that it can:

“I would like to just say thank you for what the trip was and what we all did on the trip. One thing that this trip has encouraged me to do is to seek professional help with my mental health as when I was out there, I realised that what I was dealing with isn’t what normal people should. So, I would like to say thank you for unintentionally helping me find the confidence and inspiration to get help.”

We considered this subject and the reasons why volunteering may have a positive influence on mental health and wellbeing.

Volunteering can be fulfilling work.

All of the work you do at our partner projects – no matter how small it seems to be – will have an impact on the people who attend them. Knowing that your contribution is helping to create positive change is likely to provide you with a sense of accomplishment which can stay with you long after you return home.

It will allow you to meet new people.

Volunteering gives you the opportunity to work alongside other likeminded individuals as part of a team, and for some of our ex-volunteers, this experience allowed them to forge deeper connections with people they didn’t know so well at the beginning of their trip. Volunteering overseas can seem daunting; the idea of being away from your family and friends can feel overwhelming. However, most people are in the same boat, and this commonality might just connect you to a support system of new friends – which has been shown to benefit mental wellbeing.

Finally, it may change your perspective.

Your trip to Ghana, Kenya, or Zanzibar, will immerse you in an entirely different culture. Seeing how people live in a different part of the globe could cause you to reassess your life back at home, and potentially re-evaluate your choices. In many cases, our trips have caused volunteers to reflect on themselves and their place in the world. As shown in the case of the experiences we have shared with you, the volunteering journey that these volunteers went on helped them to identify their feelings and gain the courage to address them upon their return to the UK.

These are just a few ideas we came up with about why volunteering could positively impact your mental health. We hope you find this useful, enlightening, and informative!

Thank you to our wonderful alumni who shared their stories with us. If you have had any experience of the issues raised within this article and would like further support, please visit www.samaritans.org.