There are a number of reasons why volunteering might yield mental health benefits, especially to older people. Volunteer work improves access to social and psychological resources, which are known to counter negative moods such as depression and anxiety. Analysis of three waves of data from the Americans' Changing Lives data set (1986, 1989, 1994) reveals that volunteering does lower depression levels for those over 65, while prolonged exposure to volunteering benefits both populations. Some of the effect of volunteering on depression among the elderly is attributable to the social integration it encourages, but the mediating effect of psychological resources is very small. Volunteering for religious causes is more beneficial for mental health than volunteering for secular causes but, again, the effect is confined to the elderly.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd.