Volunteer for Better Mental Health, Virtually

If you think the pandemic means that you can’t safely volunteer, think again! There are many ways to donate your time and talents virtually to organizations you care about. You can even boost your own mental health and that of others at the same time.

Just ask Courtney McDade, director of Public Affairs Programs at Independence Blue Cross (Independence). Since the pandemic began, Independence’s Blue Crew volunteer corps has not let up — it simply pivoted. Blue Crew volunteers have remained steadfast in supporting the community through remote and virtual volunteerism.

In 2021, nearly 900 Blue Crew volunteers donated over 2,500 hours through more than 100 virtual volunteer projects. During the past year, Independence associates completed these and many more projects:

  • Packed hygiene kits for students returning to school
  • Created education access kits for children
  • Sewed stuffed animals for dog rescues
  • Wrote cards to veterans and seniors

These efforts reflect Independence’s commitment to continue its volunteer efforts with community-driven and diverse organizations whose mission is to address health, community, and food inequities.

“At a time when people are busier than ever, there continues to be incredible engagement from our associate volunteers,” McDade says. “Many leaders of our business divisions are working with us to organize virtual volunteer projects for their teams and others are participating in our virtual volunteer events throughout the year.”

She adds, “We have even had dozens of associates volunteer for the first time thanks to the accessibility of virtual volunteering. I think virtual volunteering will become a permanent part of our program in 2022.”

The Benefits of Volunteering

Whether through work, with family, or individually, studies have shown that volunteering has a direct benefit on mental health.

Celebrating 20 years of the Blue Crew’s service to the community this year, Independence conducted a survey of local volunteers in March 2021. The 551 respondents reported a positive emotional connection to volunteer work, explaining that it drives feelings of connectedness, happiness, pride, inspiration, energy, optimism, and feeling informed.

Results showed that of the volunteers:

  • 74% feel like they have a sense of purpose
  • 67% feel closer to their community
  • 49% believe they can understand their community better
  • 47% believe it increases their empathy
  • 46% says it improves their mood

Among the Independence volunteers is Executive Assistant Helen Shoffner, who began volunteering after the death of her father as a way to find meaning amidst her grief. She started by helping kindergarteners learn to read, and has since donated more than 700 hours in a variety of ways, such as serving meals, donating clothing, and stuffing backpacks.

Helen remains a dedicated Blue Crew volunteer today, continuing to give back to a variety of organizations.

A Sense of Purpose

The sense of purpose and meaning we get when we volunteer makes us feel appreciated and can reduce stress. It may even affect us physically: according to the Mayo Clinic, volunteering reduces stress and increases positive, relaxed feelings by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Volunteering can be especially helpful to seniors because it provides access to social and psychological resources known to counter negative moods such as depression and anxiety.

Helping others increases social connections and helps build a support system based on common interests. Older volunteers in particular report improvement in life satisfaction and self-esteem.

A Myriad of Opportunities

While you may picture volunteering as working at a soup kitchen or repairing houses, you might be surprised at the number and variety of online volunteer opportunities.

For instance, you can share your career experience to help veterans and military spouses with career counseling and mock interviews. You can be the voice at the other end of a crisis hotline, transcribe documents for digital archives, help the blind via an app, or be a translator for a nonprofit.

Almost any organization you can imagine has virtual volunteer opportunities, so contact one that that inspires you and learn what you can do to help. Whether using your professional skills, exercising your creativity, or just being there for someone, volunteering is a great way to boost your mental health while making life better for others.

Where to Begin

To discover local volunteer opportunities, visit:

If You Need Help

While volunteering can be a powerful tool for improving your mood, it’s not a substitute for mental health treatment. If you’re consistently feeling sad or anxious, talk to your health care provider. For more information about depression, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.

If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

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