‘Volunteering, Health and Wellbeing’- important findings from Volunteer Scotland

If your organisation involves volunteers, or you are thinking of volunteer in 2019, the ‘Volunteering, Health and Wellbeing’ report by Volunteer Scotland is a valuable resource.

The organisation has reviewed a wealth of current evidence to gain thorough insights into the impact of formal volunteering opportunities on the wellbeing of volunteers. On their website, Volunteer Scotland has summarised the key findings as follows:

Improved mental health – the strongest evidence related to the contribution of volunteering to enhanced mental health, including the alleviation of depression, reduced anxiety and stress and other more serious mental health conditions.

Reduced social isolation and loneliness– volunteering is particularly important for those who are retired, are marginalised in society such as asylum seekers and those who have low wellbeing and mental health.

Enhanced physical health – volunteering can improve individual’s self-rated health through the adoption of healthy behaviours such as exercise; and helping people cope with personal illness and dependency in older age.

Age matters – there is a large body of evidence focused on the health and wellbeing benefits of volunteering for older people. Further research on the impact of volunteering on younger people would be helpful, given the well-publicised problems of mental health and loneliness.

Targeting the excluded – there is clear-cut evidence that those subject to exclusion and disadvantage in society have the most to gain from volunteering in terms of their health and wellbeing.

Understand the facilitators – volunteer managers should be aware that there are a number of ‘facilitators’ which support the attainment of health and wellbeing impacts:

  • Dose-response effect’ – regular rather than episodic volunteering
  • Motivations – volunteers who are driven by altruism
  • Recognition – giving thanks and appreciation for what volunteers do

Beware of adverse impacts – volunteering is not a universal panacea for society’s problems. Indeed, there are several possible adverse impacts on volunteers’ health and wellbeing due to role strain, ‘burnout’, and emotionally challenging and demanding roles. In such circumstances it is quite possible that individuals’ health and wellbeing could improve if they stopped volunteering.

Matthew Linning, Strategic Decelopment Manager who lead the project said:

“This research shows how important volunteering is for individuals’ health and wellbeing, particularly for those subject to disadvantage and exclusion in society. However, it also highlights how Government policy and volunteering practice can help maximise such benefits – for both volunteers and the communities in which they live.”

Learn more about the findings and access the full report here.

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