Did you know that volunteering can be good for your health?

5 November 2019

This Befriending Week 1st -7th November we are shinning a spotlight on health and wellbeing.

Befriender And Befriendee People Know How 2Befriending, at its heart, is all about people and relationships; volunteers giving up their time to share it with those experiencing social isolation and loneliness, either through one to one, telephone or group befriending.

It is well established that loneliness and social isolation have a negative impact on mental health and that, in turn, poor mental health increases loneliness and social isolation; a self-perpetuating cycle that is damaging the health of our nation. Traditionally, the benefits of befriending (increased wellbeing and feeling more connected) are associated with the befriendee, but actually, volunteers can also experience these things!

I have often heard befrienders say things like ‘Seeing her each week makes me smile’ ‘I feel happier after my visit’ ‘I feel guilty because I get so much out of it too’.  But feeling good isn’t something to feel guilty about. It’s something we should be celebrating! 

Volunteer Scotland’s "Volunteering, health and wellbeing: what does the evidence tell us", Dec 2018, presents convincing evidence on the merits of volunteering, with improved mental health and reduced social isolation and loneliness evidenced as particularly important contributors to improved wellbeing. Although an individual’s wellbeing is priceless, if the value of befriending is to be quantified, it appears to be a cost effective method, as both parties benefit. But we need to explore this further…

If we are to ensure volunteers benefit, we can’t make assumptions. We need follow the evidence and this evidence reveals we need to reach out to and welcome those that don’t traditionally volunteer. We need to think about our changing societal demographics. For instance, should volunteering be restricted by age?  We don’t think so. Recently, one of our members celebrated a befriender’s 80th Birthday! Equally, volunteering has influenced many a young person’s life for the better. 

This means we need to constantly review our recruitment and retention strategies. By reaching out beyond the current pool of volunteers, could we offer even more people the chance to connect and have a purpose, the most cited factors in improving individuals’ health and wellbeing?

The newly published document offers good practice advice for all organisations who involve volunteers, which will help us ensure that volunteering is good for the volunteers too!