Volunteering has a range of health benefits and can even prolong the lives of volunteers, according to a study commissioned by Volunteering England.
Volunteering and Health: what impact does it really have? is a systematic review of 87 relevant health studies carried out by the University of Wales Lampeter's voluntary sector studies department. It found that volunteering also boosts confidence and self-esteem, reduces hospital visits, and makes people better able to cope with depression, stress and illness.
Psychologist Paul Grantham, who is a director of the Skills Development Service, said he suggests to his clients that they consider volunteering and recommends it in the seminars he runs on managing depression, building self esteem and working with adult survivors of sexual abuse.
"Research suggests that encouraging clients to give, including volunteering, may be a useful additional intervention to increasing their psychological wellbeing," said Grantham, who was not involved in the research.
The review also found that volunteering has similar benefits for health service users, including reducing depression, boosting social support and encouraging compliance with treatments.
Justin Davis-Smith, chief executive of Volunteering England, said the study proved what the organisation had long suspected. Study leader Dr Rachel Casiday said that only one study, indicating that volunteers who care for the elderly were less satisfied than paid employees, had shown volunteering in a negative light.
The study also looked at the impact of different types of volunteering. It found, for instance, that church-related volunteering had a bigger impact on depression than secular volunteering. The study did not look at whether services were better delivered by volunteers or paid staff.