Volunteering and Well-being, What’s the connection?  

Let’s Find Out! 

Dublin City Volunteer Centre alongside a network of volunteer centres across Ireland and Volunteer Ireland are conducting research on the relationship between well-being and volunteering, with the support of the National Lottery Funding. And we are looking for participants!

Who can take part? Anyone can take part in the project once they are over 18 and are not already volunteering. However, it would be particularly of benefit to those who are feeling isolated, vulnerable, disadvantaged, have symptoms of depression and anxiety or who experience psychological difficulties.  

How can they take part? If you or if you know a person who might be interested in taking part, then please get in touch with Lucy on 01 473 7482 or at lucy@volunteerdublincity.ie , to talk about becoming a participant and more about what the research involves. 

What is the process for a participant? Participants will be offered greater assistance than is typically feasible to ensure that they find the best volunteering opportunity for them. They will meet with a Placement Officer several times so that they find the best volunteer role for them and to reflect upon their well-being.  

What is personal well-being and why is it important? Personable well-being is complex. It considers lots of different aspects of our lives such as feeling positive and satisfaction in our activities. And although, delightful our well-being cannot be improved by simply slapping on a South Korean face mask. It takes a real concerted effort and at times a helping hand.  Despite well-being not being a simple fix, nor a simple measurement, the world is beginning to shift and take personal well-being seriously. And New Zealand is leading the way. The small, yet hugely influential country, recently announced that it will be the first measures their nation’s success through well-being rather than GDP taking precedent (Guardian, 14.05.2019). This shift comes with the acknowledgement that despite GDP continually growing, the citizens of New Zealand are not experiencing an improvement in their everyday life.  

Why is social prescribing imperative to the improvement of national well-being? As said, well-being is complex and even with extra funding being directed into the improvement of well-being, it can be asked are clinical health practitioners equipped to tackle issues such as life satisfaction in patients? This is where social prescribing can fit in.  Social Prescribing “creates a formal means of enabling primary care services to refer patients with social, emotional or practical needs to a variety of holistic, local non-clinical services” (Brandling and House, 2007). Social Prescribing is about recognizing that personal well-being needs to be approached in a holistic manner and therefore support from the community sector is needed. The process of social prescribing is normally, a person would go to their GP and disclose their feelings of isolation or low mood, the GP would then refer the individual to a local Social Prescriber, who would have a sit down with the individual. After a meeting, the Social Prescriber would give a person a prescription. A prescription might be a ‘nature prescription’ like bird watching or walking, which is now frequently prescribed in Scotland as a means of tackling anxiety and high blood pressure (BBC, 05.10.2018)Other potential prescriptions could be an Arts and Crafts, exercise, support groups and of course volunteering.  Ireland is catching up, and there have been apparent positive outcomes for research conducted by the HSE in Donegal (see: HSE, 2015) but a lot more needs to be discovered on how volunteering can be part of social prescribing.  

What are the aims and reasoning for researching the impacts of volunteering on well-being? A lot of academic research has been conducted on the impact of volunteering and clear evidence has been found that the act of volunteering is good for an individual’s mind (see: Watson, 2013) and even prolongs lives (Konrath et al, 2013). At the centre, we always hear anecdotal evidence from people that volunteering has had an impact on their sense of connection to the community, has grown their skills and has built their confidence. Further, out of 1,400 people surveyed across the Volunteer Centre Network in Ireland, 878 said that their mental health and well-being increased or significantly increased through volunteering! It’s clear to us that volunteering can be amazing but do these outcomes of volunteering come together to impact personable well-being? Over the next coming months Dublin City Volunteer Centre is embarking on an exploration to find an answer. The volunteer centre will be measuring individuals’ personal well-being prior to and after they start volunteering, using established variables. The research project is grounded in the practice of social prescribing, which is increasingly popular in the UK and is being piloted in Ireland. Social prescribing describes the use of non-medical supports to address the needs of people whose mental health is affected by depression or anxiety and people who feel socially isolated (HSE, 2015). Activities such as joining a local football team, reading a self-help book and volunteering, have all been prescribed to people to alleviate symptoms.  

Beyond measuring the effects of volunteering on well-being, the other key objectives of this project are finding fulfilling volunteer roles for individuals in Dublin and growing in knowledge as to how the volunteer network can further support individuals who are struggling with their well-being.  


Citations of articles without full links:  

Konrath, S., Fuhrel-Forbis, A., Lou, A., & Brown, S. (2012). Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults. Health Psychology: Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 31(1), 87-96. 

Brandling, J., & House, W. (2007). Investigation into the feasibility of a social prescribing service in primary care: a pilot project. Bath, U. K.: University of Bath and Bath and North East Somerset NHS Primary Care Trust.