Volunteering May Be the Answer For Treating Depression

It’s almost a no-brainer that having a purpose in life makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning. Older Americans sometimes struggle with this, particularly after retirement and many find themselves struggling with depression. A new study out of Carnegie Mellon University indicates that for many individuals aged 50 and over, volunteerism may be the answer.

Volunteering and Health

A Prospective Study of Volunteerism and Hypertension Risk in Older Adults,” supported by the National Institutes of Health, examined volunteerism and its effect on multiple health issues. The study’s core focus was volunteerism’s effect on blood pressure and the occurrence of hypertension. A key finding of the study indicated that volunteering for a cause you believe in, for at least 200 hours annually, produced a dramatic reduction in blood pressure rates.

Individuals experienced other health benefits as well, including reduced mortality rates. Depression and stress levels also declined dramatically and levels of overall life satisfaction spiked. Evidently, volunteering had meaningful health benefits for both brain and body. But why?

Volunteerism and Depression

Study researchers speculated that volunteering reduced social isolation, a known risk factor for depression and one which may be endemic to retired life. Other attributes described by researchers as linked to volunteering include increased physical activity and the sense of accomplishment derived from doing good.   

These findings are not anomalous – another National Institute of Health study, “Volunteering and Depression: The Role of Psychological and Social Resources in Different Age Groups” found volunteerism to be of high benefit to those in multiple age groups, due to a heightened ability to access resources, both social and psychological.

The Value of Doing Good

Having a purpose in life and feeling like you have the power to create positive change in the world is impactful and empowering. Depression caused by social isolation cannot coexist, readily, with those heady feelings. Volunteerism may actually do as much if not more for those who volunteer, than for those who benefit directly from their work. It also provides individuals the opportunity to forge new relationships with likeminded people who are serving, shoulder-to-shoulder, for the same cause.

Where to Volunteer

There is no shortage of non-profits, local institutions and viable causes which need and value volunteers. Individuals looking for a place to volunteer their time can start online with watchdog organizations like Charity Watch and Charity Navigator, both of which provide information on non-profit organizations nationwide.

Don’t overlook local organizations close to home, either. Religious institutions rely heavily on volunteers for a variety of functions, from clerical support to fundraising. Schools, libraries, animal shelters and local chapters of national organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, The Humane Society and Autism Speaks are other viable options. Most importantly, look to affiliate yourself with a cause you care about. Once you have determined where you wish to make a difference, the rest will follow.