It’s important now more than ever for us to focus on our mental health and wellbeing and how we can help ourselves as well as others. Did you know that when we do things that make us feel good, whether this is having a productive routine or spending time with our loved ones, this stimulates the reward areas in our brain, creating positive feelings? In simple terms, research has found that feel-good chemical dopamine is released when we carry out certain activities, motivating us to do it again because we were rewarded with feeling good afterwards.
Although a cliché term used at Christmas, there’s research to back up that it’s better to give than to receive. Currently, the UK faces a challenging and unstable time with a volatile economy and job uncertainty. So while many of us excuse being uncharitable and thinking of ourselves because we’re too stressed and busy to worry about others, research points to the fact that helping others is actually not just beneficial for others. It can help:
- reduce stress
- improve emotional and mental wellbeing
- benefit physical health
- bring a sense of belonging and reduce isolation
- get rid of negative feelings
Research from 2018 reports that those who participate in volunteering projects compared to those who do not had significantly better health, life satisfaction, and social wellbeing. There is a direct neurochemical basis for giving and kindness — with brain imaging studies showing that donating to charity increases activity in the brain’s reward system as mentioned previously.
It has been argued that volunteering should be promoted by public health as an element to a healthy lifestyle — fruit, veg, water, exercise, and charity, especially for the those who generally have poorer health and participate less in volunteering. Integrating it into the national curriculum would also provide young people with consistent, high-quality opportunities throughout their childhoods and into early adulthood through work experience, university volunteering schemes, and graduate recruitment programmes.
Who is the most generous?
In the media, millennials are often given a bad rap for being lazy, job hopping, entitled, and selfish, whether it’s in the workplace or generally day to day. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
According to Psychology Today, millennials don’t stigmatise mental health and are more aware of it yet are less resilient. Since 2013, there’s been a 47 per cent increase in major-depression diagnoses in American millennials and an increase from nine to 15 per cent in the British millennials between 2005 and 2015, showing a problem across countries.
With the younger generations being more aware of mental health, it isn’t surprising to find that millennials make up the largest proportion of weekly charity givers, closely followed by Gen Z, who come ahead of older generations who have more financial security. According to Global Web Index, interest in charities and volunteering declines as we age, with 25 per cent of 16-24s and 19 per cent of 55-64s getting involved. Global Web Index reported that 40 per cent of 16-24s think donating to mental health awareness groups is the most important cause, followed closely by 25-34s — around 24 per cent of 55-64 agreed with this.
According to the Charity Commission and the Fundraising Regulator, 67 per cent of Britons are more likely to support a charity that has affected them directly, which could explain why millennials are the most generous and consider mental health charities the most important.
Acts of kindness
To get involved in charity and acts of kindness that will benefit yourself and others, consider:
- Causes that mean a lot to you or interest you and the skills you have.
- Following organisations you support on social media so you can keep up with the conversation and donate, or sign-up to receive newsletters like the Mental Health Foundation’s newsletter.
- Contacting your local volunteer centre to find opportunities in your local area.
- Checking out national databases of charities and volunteering you can get involved in.
- Offering your expertise and support as a mentor.
- Checking in with a vulnerable neighbour who is isolated.
- Raising money by taking part in a fun challenge such as a 5k run.
Charity work can be very rewarding and beneficial for our mental wellbeing. If you feel like you’re struggling with your mental health, visit your GP or book an online doctor appointment.
Yeung, J.W., Zhang, Z. and Kim, T.Y., 2018. Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: Cumulative effects and forms. BMC Public Health, 18(1), pp.1-8.