VOLUNTEERING – A PRESCRIPTION FOR IMPROVED MENTAL HEALTH AND WELL-BEING
Over the last three years, the state of workforce mental health has declined significantly. A recent study by Willis Towers Watson found 59 percent of employees across industries and seniority levels report that mental health problems affect their work. That is up from 48 percent in 2020.*
When it comes to the mental health crisis, Dr. Ann Merkow, Regional Medical Director at the QuadMed West Allis Health Center has some helpful advice.
“Volunteer. It is the best prescription I know of for improved health and well-being. No pills needed,” she said.
One activity, two times the benefit. Most people volunteer because they want to help another person or organization. Tutoring a child, donating canned goods to a food pantry, or playing with animals at the humane society are great ways to make a difference. In whatever way large or small, volunteers want to make the world a better place.
“What people don’t realize is that they get back much more than they give,” Dr. Merkow said. “The physical and mental health benefits of volunteering are phenomenal.”
While the conversation around volunteering is usually focused on the benefits to others, research proves that it benefits the volunteers, as well. That’s right – volunteering can improve your health and well-being.
Volunteering releases dopamine in our bodies – sometimes called “the happy hormone.” Dopamine reduces stress and increases positive, relaxed feelings. Reducing stress decreases all sorts of health risks, from heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure to anxiety and depression. In fact, people who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who don’t.
Volunteering brings numerous other benefits that contribute to well-being, including:
- A sense of meaning and purpose
- Increased self-esteem and life satisfaction
- Strengthened relationships and a social support system
- Valuable, new skills
- An active body and mind
Finding the right fit. There are so many good causes that need volunteers, it might be difficult to pinpoint which organization with which to engage. Here are some great tips from Dr. Merkow to you help evaluate how and where to give your time and energy.
Assess your comfort level. How comfortable are you with social interactions today versus 12 or 18 months ago? Even if you’re not quite ready for close social interaction, you can contribute with behind-the-scenes activities. Knit chemo caps for people undergoing chemotherapy. Organize a book donation for a local literacy program.
Reflect on your experiences, even challenging ones. Where have you been helped in your life, and how can you pass that on?
Think about what you uniquely offer. What is your expertise, or your talent? Dr. Ann and her husband, also a physician, volunteered as field doctors at high school football games. Do you love golf? Organize a foursome to participate in a charity golf event or help disabled veterans get back in the game. What causes are near and dear to your heart? Check out their websites and find out how you can help.
Bring the whole family. The entire family, even younger children can help an elderly neighbor with spring lawn clean-up or pick up trash along the roadside. Serve a meal together at the food pantry. Join a 5K walk/run to raise money for a school program or local charity. Organizing a fundraising event. Whatever you choose, it’s never too early to help kids learn the importance of – and how good it feels – to give back.
“You don’t have to be wealthy to make an impact,” Dr. Merkow emphasized. “If you can’t donate money yourself, help organize a fundraising event. Give your time. Share your skills or your passion. Every one of us can make a difference.”
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QuadMed (quadmedical.com) is a nationally recognized provider of health and wellness solutions designed specifically for employers. The model features a full continuum of high-quality, patient-centered services proven to decrease costs by increasing accessibility and engagement. The company's 30-year track record of success is rooted in integrating prevention-focused, comprehensive primary care with leading-edge technology and analytics. The industry pioneer, QuadMed was founded in 1991 as a subsidiary of Quad.