Too much volunteering unhealthy
istock_firefighters.jpg
Volunteers, such as firefighters, can suffer
emotionally if they donate too much of their time.
Image: iStockphoto

Doing volunteer work is good for your well being, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing – with those volunteering more than 15 hours a week showing a sharp decrease in their satisfaction with life and emotional health, according to an academic from The Australian National University.

Dr Tim Windsor from the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research (CMHR) said the findings of his study – which looked at nearly 1000 volunteers in their 60s from across Canberra and Queanbeyan – show the value of taking part in moderate levels of volunteering. Speaking during Mental Health Week, Dr Windsor said the research illustrated the importance of not over-burdening volunteers and ensuring voluntary organisations had sufficient support.

“The study found that those who volunteer at a moderate level – between around two and 15 hours per week – show high levels of well being compared with non-volunteers. It appears to have a really positive effect,” he said. “However, with those who volunteer for more than 15 hours a week the pattern of results is quite distinct. Those people showed lower levels of mental health and well being.

“The findings indicate that we need to make sure that volunteers aren’t being over-burdened. Adequate government and community support of the volunteer sector is important to ensure that the burden of responsibility doesn’t fall to just a few, but is shared by many.”

The study used data collected from the ANU PATH Through Life Project, which began in 1999 with 7,500 participants from Canberra and Queanbeyan. Every three years the participants are interviewed about a range of subjects and their responses are building a broad picture of the mental health of the region. Dr Windsor’s study was concerned with interviews of nearly 1000 volunteers.

CEO of Volunteering ACT Lorraine Higgins said the research shows the benefits of volunteering to those involved – something she’s hears often from those who give their time.

“I am constantly hearing anecdotal evidence of the positive effects of volunteering on the well being of those who are involved,” she said.

“Even though the study involved people in their 60s, I frequently hear comments from volunteers aged up to their late 80s about what benefits it brings them. Many volunteers will tell you that volunteering can offer a sense of usefulness and a community network that retired people can lack.”


Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.