Volunteering in middle and older age associated with enhanced mental health and well-being: Study

Volunteering in middle and older age associated with enhanced mental health and

A number of people who volunteer say that helping others is useful for them also because it helps them feel good about themselves and their moves. According to a new research, such positive feelings may, at least in some particular stages of life, translate into improved mental health and well-being.

Published in the journal BMJ Open, the study discovered that volunteering in middle and older age is linked to improved mental health and better well-being. However, researchers said that the association wasn’t visible in people below 40 years, indicating that the link can possibly be stronger at later parts of an individual’s life.

While speaking to CBS News, study author Dr. Faiza Tabassum of the Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute at the University of Southampton in the UK, said, “Previous research has shown that volunteering in older age is associated with better mental and physical health, but it's unclear whether this extends to other age groups”.

The study was based on data from a yearly national British survey of 5,000 households. Tabassum and colleagues analyzed 66,343 responses from 1996 to 2008.

The survey had huge number of questions on free time activities, including the frequency of formal volunteering, no matter once a week, numerous times in a year, once in 365 days, less or never. They asked the participants the questions meant to gauge their mental health and well-being.

Overall, around one in five people said that they had volunteered, and women had more chances of involvement into volunteering in comparison to men. Nearly a quarter of the ones aged 60 to 74 reported that they volunteered, but the proportion fell down to 17% in the ones aged 15 to 29.

The results demonstrated that as a whole, the ones into volunteering possessed better mental health and well-being score in comparison to those who didn't. The average score was up in the ones who said they volunteered often.

A report published in CBS NEWS informed, "The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, found that volunteering in middle and older age is associated with enhanced mental health and well-being. However, that relationship was not seen in people under the age of 40, suggesting the connection may be stronger at later points in a person's life, the researchers say."

The survey included a wide range of questions on leisure time activities, which covered the frequency of formal volunteering -- whether at least once a week, several times a year, once a year or less, or never. Participants were also asked questions meant to measure their mental health and well-being.

"Being engaged in routine activities, an emotional feeling that you're giving to other people, and the fact that you are feeling better about yourself by being productive and giving back, these are some of the psychological benefits of volunteering," Dr. Dimitris Kiosses, geriatric psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, told CBS News. Kiosses was not involved in the study.

According to a report in Business Insider by Kathryn Doyle, "The findings could shape government policy toward engaging the elderly population in volunteering activities, which, if it improves health, would decrease dependence on the healthcare system, she said."

Mental health scores were better for people who had volunteered than for people who never had, and was best for those who volunteered most often – even when marital status, educational attainment, social class, and state of health were accounted for.

“Volunteering may also provide a sense of purpose particularly for those people who have lost their earnings because volunteering regularly helps contribute to the maintenance of social networks and this is especially in case of older people who often live in isolation,” she noted.

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