Volunteering improves your mental health, but there’s a catch

Researchers in the United Kingdom say volunteering in middle and older age can improve your mental health.

But their study, published in the online journal BMJ Open, found no such link in people aged under 40.

The team from the University of Southampton used data from the British Household Panel Survey, which included a range of questions on the frequency of volunteering.

men volunteeringIn all, they gathered 66,343 responses from 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2002, 2006 and 2008.

Around 21% said they had done some voluntary work and while that included almost a quarter of people aged between 60 and 74, the figure dropped to 17% among younger age groups.

They were then able to compare those results with a validated index for mental health known as the GHQ-12.

Those who volunteered had higher levels of emotional wellbeing, starting at midlife and continuing into old age.

The researchers speculate younger people might consider volunteering as just another obligation but that changes later in life.

“Volunteering may also provide a sense of purpose, particularly for those people who have lost their earnings, because regular volunteering helps maintain social networks, which are especially important for older people who are often socially isolated,” write the study’s authors.

So if you’re looking for a meaningful way to improve your state of mind, it might be time to volunteer.