As part of my sabbatical this year, volunteering was always going to be part of this period. I’ve learnt over the years that the collegial environment, the positive impacts on community and the people you meet, all make this activity worth creating time for.
Supporting the Yes Campaign and more recently working in the FareShare gardens, have been both very practical, interactive and outdoor activities that I’ve enjoyed participating in. I’ve also noticed how much I’ve looked forward to these weekly sessions, how much happier I was afterwards, how the interactions with fellow volunteers was a highlight and how I always spoke about the activity with others.
I started many years ago in the environmental education networks, and cut my teeth volunteering with the Aust Association for Environmental Education and the Victorian Association committees, gaining from the networking opportunities provided. It became very clear that actively engaging and creating communities of interest was a means to develop robust ideas and ensured our projects maintained the ownership of the communities they served. I carried these early learnings through many roles to embed these principles.
Having managed volunteering in corporate settings I could also always see the positive feelgood experiences my colleagues had and expressed back to me in their feedback.
I’m now utterly convinced there is a measurable mental health benefit from volunteering, regardless of the activity or charity. It's not just about compassion for others, or being altruistic, as in so many ways the personal benefits, if they don't outweigh them are at least equal.
Mental health is understood in broad terms. Mental health is not only the absence of mental illness or disorder, but an integral and essential component of health.
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” 1
It’s got me wondering out loud how we build the ability for us all to allocate time regularly to give back, to model this to our young people and to recognise the ongoing benefits this provides as we invest in and prioritise mental health and wellbeing.