Volunteering – Healthy? – New Study
Wednesday, 26th May 2004 at 1:05 pm
While there are many known benefits of volunteering, a new Australian study has found that donating your time and energy to projects may also be bad for your health!
Researchers from Flinders University in South Australia found that people who participate in voluntary associations, groups, clubs, organisations and societies tend to have worse physical health than people who don’t volunteer their time.
The study, by Dr. Anna Ziersch and Fran Baum from the University’s Department of Public Health, reviewed the responses of 530 adults who completed questionnaires on volunteer habits and physical health.
During follow up interviews, people reported that they felt their health had been negatively affected by a number of elements associated with volunteering including witnessing difficult and depressing situations, observing conflict and pushing themselves to do too much.
More than half the respondents said they had volunteered over the past year with sports and recreation groups, hobby groups, community groups and social action groups.
The researchers believe the findings suggest that some volunteers may need to monitor how donating their time impacts on their health. Volunteering may be good for the community as a whole but not necessarily for the individual.
They caution that many people get a lot out of volunteering and these results are not meant to discourage anyone from getting involved whenever possible. Just do it within reasonable limits.
Dr. Ziersch says although the research shows being involved in volunteering is linked with poorer physical health it is not clear which came first, and people in bad health may be less likely to work and therefore have more time for to volunteer.
She says regardless it is the responsibility of the volunteer organisations to monitor the health of their members and to make sure they are adequately supported and trained to handle difficult situations.
She says it is important for groups to manage the workload for their members and for the volunteers to support one another and be realistic about what they can achieve.
The research findings have been published in the prestigious US Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in its June edition.