International Volunteer Day takes place on Saturday 5 December 2020, with Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub taking a closer look at how giving time to volunteering can have a significantly positive impact on a person’s health and wellbeing.
A United Nations declared global celebration of volunteering, International Volunteer Day has taken place on 5 December since it was launched in 1985. It focuses on recognising the difference that volunteering makes at a social, cultural and economic level to so many developed and developing nations.
The theme for this year’s campaign is ‘Together We Can Through Volunteering’, which directly recognises how volunteers have been at the forefront of the world’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during 2020.
Volunteering is sometimes described as the art of giving your time and efforts for little or no reward. The reality of volunteering is, however, far from it; the personal, health and developmental benefits that can be gained through volunteering cannot be emphasised enough.
But in these unprecedented and stressful times, can volunteering really help improve your health? Cumbernauld Community Health Information explores this question in the below section.
VOLUNTEERING AND GOOD HEALTH: WHAT’S THE LINK?
Volunteering and Long Term Conditions
Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not. Older volunteers tend to walk more, find it easier to cope with everyday tasks, are less likely to develop high blood pressure, and have better thinking skills. Volunteering can also lessen symptoms of chronic pain and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Since it is known that those with stress, anger and anxiety issues are more likely to develop long-term health conditions, and that volunteering contributes to a reduction in stress, anger and anxiety, it can reasonably be concluded that those who volunteer also reduce their chances of many serious and life-limiting illnesses.
Equally, volunteering supports physical health by providing stimulation, something to do, exercise, as well as routine and structure in life. In this respect, volunteering has a positive effect on attitudes, coping styles and outlook on life.
Volunteering and Mental Health
Mental health challenges can have a variety of negative effects on the lives of those affected, including unemployment, a lack of confidence and motivation, an inability to concentrate, difficulties in trusting people, an inability to make or sustain friendships, and feelings of isolation, frustration and anxiety.
The great thing about volunteering is that is can have a range of positive impacts on people experiencing mental health difficulties. Research has shown volunteering can give people a real sense purpose and achievement, and for those facing mental health challenges it can be both rewarding and interesting, it can increase their confidence, and it can give them the chance to learn new skills.
Individuals can also see their social interaction skills improve greatly as a result of volunteering. ‘Social capital’ can be increased through volunteering by creating bonds between people facing similar problems and bridges that assist understanding and interaction with other kinds of people. This can be seen as particularly important amongst those with mental health issues that go on to volunteer with a mental health charity or support group following their previous use of the service as a client.
Interestingly, volunteering is shown to help with given structure, direction and meaning to life, particularly for people experiencing depression, anxiety or low mood. It can notably help widen people’s social networks, improve their vocational and interpersonal skills and help them gain access to education and training.
Furthermore, for those people seeking employment, volunteering is an ideal way to use spare time well, and to keep active and well-skilled during a difficult period. Statistics show that volunteering can prove a very positive stepping stone for people looking to get back into employment, without the same pressures as operating in a paid working environment.
It can arguably be concluded that volunteering is potentially more beneficial to people with mental health issues than it is to any other group in society. Due to the barriers that people with mental health issues often face in various aspects of life, the personal benefits of being included, accepted and involved through volunteering for an individual can be life-changing.
Volunteering and Physical Disabilities
There is strong evidence to suggest that people with physical disabilities, especially those who are wheelchair users or have substantial mobility difficulties, experience a lack of independence as a result of their inaccessibility and often rely on other people to assist their outside activities.
This in turn leads to a level of social isolation, and can trigger a lack of confidence in social settings and even lead to the onset of depression and feelings of worthlessness. As a result, volunteering can be absolutely crucial to a physically disabled person’s social interaction, and signify a marked improvement in the quality of life experienced by the disabled volunteer.
Clearly, there are certain aspects of physical disability that cannot be improved by volunteering or any other activity, namely sensory impairments and physical diseases or disabilities which are not improved by increased levels of mobility or other external factors.
The effects of some physical disabilities, however, can be improved by certain factors such as gradually increasing levels of activity, limited exercise or movement, or performing a certain level of activity for a certain period of time, etc. In these instances, volunteering certainly is a useful activity that can contribute to certain improvements in levels of disability.
VOLUNTEERING IN THE CUMBERNAULD AREA
Earlier this year, over 1,000 people stepped forward to volunteer in the Greater Cumbernauld area to help local people during the coronavirus pandemic, including those registering to offer support through NHS Scotland, British Red Cross and Volunteer Scotland.
Although not everyone is able to volunteer at this unprecedented time, volunteering is something you could perhaps consider once life returns to a greater state of normality.
Once coronavirus restrictions are lifted, what exactly will be on offer for people who want to volunteer in the Cumbernauld area? Well, for one there will be several rewarding volunteering opportunities available through Cornerstone House Centre in the areas of administration, marketing, events management, Community Space coordination, employability, family development and social media.
Under normal circumstances, there are also many outdoor and hands-on volunteering opportunities available in Cumbernauld too. Organisations and initiatives such as Cumbernauld Living Landscape, The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), Scottish Wildlife Trust, Watch Us Grow, Active Schools North Lanarkshire and Seven Lochs Wetland Park work locally and regularly recruit volunteers for outdoor activities and events.
Several other voluntary sector organisations that recruit, train, involve and support volunteers operate in and around the Cumbernauld area. These include, amongst others, Bethlehem House of Bread Food Bank, CACE Older People Active Lives, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Citizens Advice Bureau, Cumbernauld Community Forum, Cumbernauld Poverty Action, Cumbernauld YMCA-YWCA and Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland.
Individuals interesting in volunteering in the Cumbernauld area can do a search for current opportunities available locally by visiting the Volunteer Scotland website at www.volunteerscotland.net.
More information about activities to mark International Volunteer Day 2020 around the world can be obtained by visiting the UN Volunteers website.