Last week, the LSE Volunteer Centre attended the Student Volunteering Network Conference 2019 in Manchester, which was hosted in conjunction with NUS. The agenda included training sessions, workshops and breakout discussions on topics such as ‘Volunteering Festivals’ and the ‘Welcome Refugees Project’. One particular session that caught our attention was delivered by Jo & Shaunagh from the volunteering service at the University of Chester. They focused on the link between positive wellbeing and volunteering; a relationship not newly founded, but recently explored and recognised.
The New Economics Forum define wellbeing as being understood as “how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole”. A recent Time Well Spent study by the NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) showed the relationship between perceived wellbeing and mental health factors and volunteering. They found that 77% of volunteers agreed that their volunteering experience improved their mental health and wellbeing in some way, particularly in the 18-24 year olds.
Why the sudden focus on wellbeing in younger age groups? Research shows that mental distress and low wellbeing in UK university students is increasing, due to a plethora of reasons. Not only is it rising, but it is now high relative to other social groups in the population, and within the last 10 years there has been a five-fold increase in those students who disclose a mental health condition and low wellbeing.
So how does volunteering increase and maintain positive wellbeing?
Jo and Shaunagh started off the presentation by highlighting the NHS’s 5 steps to wellbeing, one of which is ‘Give’. They argued that giving to others can help bring about a sense of purpose to individuals and can stimulate the reward areas in the brain, in turn creating positive feelings. Volunteering seems like a perfect fit here, as giving your time for free to something you are passionate about is a great way to help out.
Give to others – even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks.
NHS 5 Steps to Wellbeing
Whilst studies have previously focused on reducing loneliness in the elderly population, more recent surveys have found similar and higher rates in younger populations. The Time Well Spent survey reported that 68% of participants felt that volunteering reduced feelings of isolation, with 77% of 18-24 year olds agreeing. Connecting with others (see 1st step to wellbeing by the NHS) and reducing loneliness is shown to have a positive impact on wellbeing. This is especially key in younger age groups as the NCVO found out in their Community Life Survey, that 16-24 year olds are most likely to say they feel lonely all the time or often (8% in comparison to people aged 54-74 at 3%).
3. Increasing confidence
Mind UK, one of our amazing charity partners, outlines someone as having good mental wellbeing if they are able to ‘feel relatively confident in [themselves] and have positive self-esteem’ amongst other attributes. Again looking at the Time Well Spent report, 84% of 18-24 year olds found that their volunteering experience gave them more confidence. Here we can see another link in how volunteering might benefit an individual’s mental wellbeing. We (LSE Volunteer Centre) also found a similar relationship in our annual volunteering survey, where 64% felt that their volunteering experience increased their confidence!
So what does this mean?
Overall, volunteering has a positive impact on wellbeing and we now have the facts and figures to back it up. It should be used as part of a comprehensive, society wide approach to the current mental health crisis, along with policy changes and sufficient financial supplies. Whilst it may not be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer, it certainly highlights yet another reason for us, as a university volunteer centre, to promote volunteering to our student body. It also points us to a close partnership with LSE’s current wellbeing services.
If we’ve inspired you to volunteer, check out one of our other 200+ ongoing opportunities or book a one-to-one with David Coles, the Volunteer Centre Manager if you have more questions. If you are short on time, then take a look at the one-off opportunities that will return for Michaelmas Term 2019, organised by the LSE Volunteer Centre. And why not follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay up-to-date with our events and opportunities and read our blog for more volunteering tips and stories.