How Civic Engagement Can Boost Your Mental Health

Oct 10, 2023

Society has come a long way with regards to mental health awareness and visibility in recent decades, yet it remains a major social issue. Thirty-nine percent of people are especially concerned about mental health when compared to other social issues, according to Points of Light’s Deep Dive on Mental Health]. Notably, concern tends to slightly skew toward younger generations, with Gen Z coming at 44%, Millennials at 42% and Gen X at 40%, compared to 31% of Baby Boomers. Women were also more concerned at 44%, compared to 33% of men.

October 10 marks World Mental Health Day, a time to raise awareness about mental health and to mobilize support for those experiencing mental health issues. Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) organizes a global campaign for World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme, as set by The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), is “Mental health is a universal human right.”

Studies show that civic engagement is an excellent way to boost your mental health and wellbeing:

  • Volunteering results in an increase in psychological wellbeing and a decrease in depressive symptoms.
  • When older adults volunteer, it allows them to participate in meaningful activities and leads to a sense of greater wellbeing.
  • By engaging in service work, many were able to find and create pockets of connection for themselves and others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Mental health improvement and civic engagement often go hand in hand,” said Dena Rodriguez-Leach, mental wellness supervision & workforce development program manager of Spark the Change Colorado. “There is evidence showing a strong correlation between volunteering and wellbeing. The benefits include a sense of purpose, social connection, reduced stress and improved self-esteem.”

Take Action for Others, Improve Your Own Wellbeing

When we take action for causes we care about, we don’t just act in service of others, we also receive benefits ourselves – including to our own mental health and wellbeing.

“In engaging with communities through volunteering and other ways, individuals feel a sense of purpose and gratitude, both of which have been scientifically proven to impact the release of oxytocin, which results in feelings of wellbeing, said iVolunteer principal consultant Aarti Madhusudan. “Civic engagement enables the individual to focus externally, [with] energies being invested in the problems of others. Being part of the solution for a problem [affecting] a community that perhaps has less privilege creates greater confidence in one’s own capabilities and resilience. All of these are extremely valuable for positive mental health.”

Interested in volunteering for mental health or other causes? Check out POINTS OF LIGHT ENGAGE® — The World’s Largest Digital Volunteer Network.

Rodriguez-Leach agreed: “Civic engagement provides a sense of purpose for individuals who volunteer and advocate for a particular cause. Research shows that contributing to society’s betterment can boost self-esteem and overall satisfaction. Being involved in a cause provides a sense of empowerment, improving self-worth and increasing emotional fulfillment and happiness as it allows for personal growth, social connection and a sense of purpose.”

Be a Point of Light for Mental Health

Each of us, regardless of our own mental health status or experiences, can be part of the movement to promote access to quality mental health care for all and to end discrimination based on mental health conditions.

Our Deep Dive on Mental Health found that 83% of people felt that some of the most influential actions to support mental health are volunteering with a cause or organization in-person or online, and 80% leaned into making a charitable donation to a cause or organization.

“Civic engagement is one way of engaging in those things that are bigger than yourself.”

– Dena Rodriguez-Leach, mental wellness supervision & workforce development program manager, Spark the Change Colorado

Ready to get started on your civic engagement journey? Find opportunities, no matter your age, availability, location or interests.

Civic Engagement Opportunities to Boost Your Mental Health

  • Points of Light Engage®: The World’s Largest Digital Volunteer Network: Points of Light pulls volunteer opportunities from sites across the web to provide the most comprehensive database of volunteer opportunities around the world. Individuals can search for volunteer projects, nonprofits can post and manage event sign-ups and visitors are invited to start projects of their own – all in one place.
  • Points of Light Global Network: The Points of Light Global Network accelerates people-driven social impact across 38 countries. Find your local Points of Light affiliate to learn what your community needs.
  • DIY Volunteer Projects: Access easy DIY volunteer projects that families and individuals of all ages can complete in their spare time such as donating food to essential workers on the job, assembling comfort bags for youth experiencing hardships and building composting bins for greener communities.
  • Volunteer Advice & Resources: Explore more ways to access service opportunities, support specific causes you care about and strategically amplify your impact.

Points of Light

We are champions of civic engagement with a mission to inspire, equip and mobilize people to take action that changes the world.