Volunteering has health benefits

As National Volunteers Week celebrations draw to a close today, we chat with our School Psychologist Dr. Allana Canty about the direct health benefits for volunteers which can include reduced stress, balanced mood, improved resilience, and a sense of purpose.

Research has demonstrated a strong correlation between volunteering and mental health.  These benefits are often reciprocal between those in the position to give and those receiving support.

In recent years, Allana has been fortunate to be involved with a number of international volunteering programs, one of these projects is El Hongo, “The Mushroom”, a volunteer-run restaurant, where profits go directly towards sponsoring a community art program in the “real” Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

El Hongo volunteers work at the restaurant, clean and restore unpaved roads and damaged buildings, paint murals, provide emotional and wellbeing support to local families, and educate and inspire youth through skill development programs aimed at building their confidence and self-efficacy for employment in the future.

While Allana donned the hat of a chef, the overalls of a plumber, and the paintbrush of an artist, her predominant role was that of offering wellbeing support to disadvantaged youth. She swapped the Freudian style couch for a hammock with many youths, and swung in the breeze whilst chatting through various highs and lows that coloured their history.

“Providing wellbeing support to disadvantaged communities also has clear benefits for the receiver, who would otherwise not have access to mental health services,” said Allana.

What benefits do you receive from volunteering?

Volunteering within less fortunate communities is extraordinarily grounding and enriches my practice as a clinical psychologist. The lives I have been welcomed into, and privileged to be a part of, have nurtured by humility and compassion. Further to this, I cherish the reminder of the common threads in wellbeing that connect humans globally and the heart-warming satisfaction of seeing lives prosper with a little support and direction.

What qualities do you believe are important when volunteering?

Adaptability in your personal practice. Flexibility to social, community and environmental climates and cultures. Resilience, both emotionally and physically… all through which, empathy is my guide.

What is your favourite memory through volunteering?

I think about my paint footprints that trail down an unpathed road, next to mine, are those of an 11-year-old orphan. They tell the story of a walk during which I learned of unspeakable trauma, normalised in a community which his experiences were commonplace. I remember looking into eyes full of warmth, hope and playfulness, a reminder that support is cherished, and that your history doesn’t have to be a prophecy of your future.