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5 Ways Volunteer Work Can Help Heal Depression

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Getting through depression is one of the toughest things a person can live through. But there is hope! Find out how doing volunteer work can help!

Depression, like most mental health issues, is surrounded by a stigma that makes it nearly impossible for those who suffer from it to discuss the problem openly and get the help they need, when they need it.

In our culture, admitting you have a mood disorder is more or less like acknowledging you are too weak, frail and lazy to handle what life throws at you. Seeking help kind of makes it worse, because now it is as if you’ve added an “incapable of solving own problems” stamp on your forehead. [Read: Why it’s important to break down the stigma of mental illness]

But that’s not the whole truth, is it?

If you or someone you care about is struggling with depression, you know there is so much more to it.

You’ve seen firsthand the holes this self-feeding fire can burn through a person’s life. You’ve witnessed the person that once was slip through the cracks of what used to be a complete human being and into a puddle of self-loathing and isolation.

How do people battle depression?

Sadly, therapy is not always an option. Medication can fail as well, as it often doesn’t perform as expected, or has side effects that are unbearable.

So how is one supposed to get better? In a society incapable of recognizing the signs of a person who needs help, how can someone find their way to recovery? And it’s also equally important to ask how one can handle it without being judged, being told to suck it up and get a grip, without being shamed into hiding?

How can volunteering be beneficial to those suffering from depression?

An avenue not thoroughly explored, yet one absolutely worthy of the attention is volunteering. Its nature is humble and unassuming, yet combines multiple factors that promise to bring improvement and stability to the mind.

#1 The thrill of the unknown trumps the feeling of worthlessness. Mastering new skills or dusting off old ones does not necessarily cause a revolution the first time around, but it does leave a mark. It marks a place and time of accomplishment- the moment your hands and mind gave birth to something good, something meaningful.

Once this happens, there is no going back. It would be like trying to undo the sunrise. Little by little, or hopefully with full jet power, the feeling of being useful and needed can help keep the depression at bay.

You will recognize your ability to make a difference and that as your efforts grow, so do the results. The value of such a realization is invaluable, as it is one of the first milestones on the road to a depression-free life. [Read: 5 ways to battle low self worth by seeing yourself in a better light]

#2 Passion, purpose and direction will stop looking like words from motivational posters. If we lose our way, whether on an actual trip or while going through life, we tend to resolve to these options – going back to a point where we knew where we were, taking chance turns in the hope they will bring us to where we want to be, or reaching out for help. The reality is that these don’t always work out and then we lose ourselves completely.

It’s this feeling of being stuck, this time we spend being stranded, that cripples us mentally and emotionally. We doom ourselves to repeat the same numbing routine until we finally give up and accept it is all there is for us, or worse – it’s all that we deserve. [Read: 10 sure signs that your negative thinking is ruining your life]

Breaking the cycle seems pointless, because if you were good for anything else, you would have found out by now and started doing it, right? Wrong. Depression lies. Remember this. Depression lies.

Who knows, maybe you’ll turn out to be an amazing cook, great with animals, really handy and capable of fixing and building things, a researcher with a keen eye for details, an influential public speaker or an organizer able to set up a massive event in the blink of an eye. You really never know until you try, and once you do know – there will be no stopping you.

You will make life fall in line with what you want it to be and continue on a road paved with hard work and fulfillment.

#3 Finding your happiness in the joy of others. Does this sound too cheesy? Too much like a Sunday sermon? Even so, it doesn’t make it any less true.

Humans are hardwired to mimic other humans’ smiles. This, in turn makes our brain send out feel-good signals all over our body, especially the face, which results in, you guessed it, more smiles. Think of it as an eternal loop of positive emotion injections.

You’d be surprised how much smiling goes on while charity happens. And even if you choose a field that does not suggest a lot or any actual human contact, like animal shelters or online databases, this doesn’t mean there won’t be grins involved. Gratitude, appreciation and respect can clearly be detected, despite the method of communication being body language or electronic.

Alleviated stress and reduced anxiety are self-generated doorways to higher confidence and life satisfaction.

In other words, volunteering provides a natural, healthy boost to your mental health, and it has the potential to rekindle your zest for life and help you like who you see in the mirror. The benefits it produces when fighting depression could be compared to those of a long standing meditation habit.

#4 Volunteering builds a solid support group around you. We’ve all heard stories about the bonds formed by soldiers fighting side by side, police officers patrolling in the same car, even wild animals brought together by unusual circumstances.

These bonds are formed from the simple yet concrete-strong foundation of going through the same experience, with the same goal, as part of the same team. Show up and do what you are there to do – this is pretty much all it takes.

Volunteering brings together people from all walks of life, and although these combinations seem random, even chaotic, they work out. The idea that unites them usually tops whatever it is that divides them. This translates to those people being there for each other much more than you’d expect.

#5 It’s the right kind of selfish. It’s commonly accepted that charity work is an act of selflessness, an island of altruism in our otherwise hectic and competitive lives. But reality is never this one-sided.

Don’t get us wrong, all the positive statements people make about it are undeniably true. Dedicating time and efforts to a cause, without expecting any financial or material gain, is as noble as it sounds.

Yet you do gain something, don’t you? Or at least find something you thought you’d lost along the way.

For instance, it gives you a reason to get out there, something constructive to take your mind off whatever it is that is torturing you, self-respect, a feeling of identity, of acceptance and belonging, of being connected, a spark of creativity and thirst for life like you never knew them before. [Read: 11 tips to help you love yourself and be a better you]

Bottom line is that volunteering is about rewarding yourself just as much as it is about serving others. Probably even more, because once you start seeing yourself in this new, better light, you will have shrugged off some of the burden depression has you carrying. And this, right there, is what can help you heal.

[Read: 12 insightful life lessons to help you have a better life]

Volunteering is a two-way street where both, those helping and those being helped, exchange mutually positive feelings. Though you extending your help will be much more obvious, the act of volunteering allows you to receive positive vibes and emotions from those who reward your charity with their gratitude.

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DISCUSSION

  • Dianne

    Thank you for this wonderful article. It seriously touched me, especially the part where you mention that everyone else in the world truly believes you’re weak if you tell them that you’re going through depression, instead of helping you and looking at you with empathy.

    It’s a very cruel world, but you’ve shown a great way to make ourselves feel loved and strong all over again. I never thought volunteering could make me feel better, but with your reasons, it’s very clear that that’s the best way forward. And I’m sure I’ll feel a lot better doing that. Thank you!

  • Meriam

    I think an important point missing here is that volunteering lets you face your feelings head on. It forces you to get out of the house and away from the grief you’re feeling in order to work for something more. The support network that comes from it is great. I know because I’ve been there: stuck inside my place, never really leaving the comfort of home beyond for the essential things like supermarket shopping, and never really going out with my friends – who soon disappeared from my life. However, volunteering at a local charity shop has let me connect with new people and build more current, positive relationships. I’m a lot happier now.

  • lovehandshake

    If you can’t find happiness in yourself, try to find the happiness in others. By making other people, you in turn would make yourself happy. You would know what I’m saying if you think about a time where you gave a homeless person some spare change or food. You felt good right? You would feel even better if you volunteer for social work. It would do good for your self and also for the society. It wouldn’t be so hard, the look on the faces you see would immediately alleviate your depression. If you do it everyday I bet you could really say goodbye to your depression.

  • Meanna

    I volunteer for medical missions all around the world. So far, I’ve been to Africa, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Philippines, Israel, and some more places I just can’t think of right now. I like doing volunteer work because it makes me happy. I was diagnosed with chronic depression before because of the hardships I had to go through with nursing school. I was never really the smart one in class and I had to work hard to get a passing grade but sometimes I just feel that I’m not meant to be successful. That made me really depressed and now I’m not because I’m actually doing something with my life and I am helping others. I get to travel for free because I am a volunteer. Sure, there is no pay but I get what I need from the program. I do have allowance for food and I have free shelter. I don’t have to pay for rent and I am helping other people. How cool is that? I really do’t find it a chore to help other people because it’s like I see myself in them. I want to help them because I know they just need some love. I knew that it was not gonna be easy to keep on doing this but I really made it my life choice to do this for as long as I can. As long as there are people to help, I am here. I won’t give up on anyone. I am here to stay with you guys. This is what makes me happy, this is what makes me.