Give Back, Get More – Mental health benefits for low-income volunteers

By 1JustCity Citizen
January 12, 2016

“In most Aboriginal languages there is no word for volunteerism, but there is a spirit of giving and sharing that is understood in every community and every traditional lifestyle” (Quote from study by Long& Pask 2005)

Formal volunteering is defined as “volunteer work in or for the community, where time and effort are given for the betterment of the community in general or … community members who are in need” (Thoits & Hewitt 2001, 116), but another group that benefits from volunteering is the volunteers themselves. Studies show that the mental well being of the volunteers improves as well as experiencing additional benefits such as increased social connections, learning new skill sets, increased self worth and a sense of belonging. For individuals who are unemployed or low-income, they may find themselves unable to fill their time and end up feeling bored, alone and useless.

According to Willigen 2005, there are reasons behind why people feel alienated in society, and the 5 major types of alienation people may experience include; powerlessness, isolation, self estrangement, meaninglessness, and normlessness. In a sense, he supports the idea that people want control over their lives, and that when one is living on a limited income, they lose control of many aspects of their daily rituals. Volunteering is the key for low income individuals who want to socialize, have control & meaning in their daily life and give back to the community. Another form of isolation is experienced by “low-income individuals who rely on provincial income assistance programs must contend with the stigma that is often attached to welfare as one’s primary source of income. The stigma limits their social interactions, however, if they join a volunteer group with people in similar circumstances this allows them to expand their social network and strengthen the community by working together. Allowing a network of people to come together out of isolation which in turn positively affects their mental health and overall sense of well-being.

We all desire to remain productive while maintaining and creating new friends, it makes us feel good. Who we are is made up of what we do, if we do nothing, its hard to feel good about who we are. When an individual feels comfortable, valued and important in the roles they are placed in, their overall satisfaction with life increases. In Thoits and Hewitts literature review they found that when comparing elderly volunteers to elderly non volunteers, the volunteers had “higher life satisfaction, a stronger will to live, greater feelings of self-respect, and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety” (2001, 188). Howell, Hong and Lee’s (2009) research encouraged the recruitment of lower income individuals who are typically disadvantaged socially and economically, including individuals from all ages. The outcome of their study found that these individuals have higher self esteem, achieve personal growth, enjoy meaningful engagement socially, and feel an increase of life satisfaction and health. In their study they found that “90% of the volunteers reported that the people or the community served by program were better off because of their volunteer work, with one third of the respondents reporting that the service recipients were a great deal better off” (Howell, Hong & Lee 2009, 96).

Pask and Long focused their study on low income participants and the motivations they had behind why they chose to volunteer with the two top responses: to make use of spare time and for the social interaction. The responses included that the volunteers wanted to ‘fit in’ with a group and be recognized as a person. One of the reasons they may volunteer is to give back to the organization that has helped them in the past, and if they are financially unstable volunteering becomes a way to show gratification by giving back to the community and in turn spend time with the people they care about.

That’s why the work of a volunteer coordinator is so important for 1JustCity.

Please donate today to make it a reality!

1JustCity Citizen: Carrie Komadowski

Jack - Oak Table board member and volunteer cutting up watermelon

Jack – Oak Table board member and volunteer cutting up watermelon

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