Even before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, health officials and leaders warned of an urgent problem within our culture. There was and still remains a mental health crisis in the United States, especially among younger people.

The forced isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-and 2021 may be easing now, but the effects of it on people’s mental health will take time to heal.

 Why It’s Newsworthy: One of the top single category Google searches in 2021 may be an indication of the impact of that isolation.  In the Year in Search 2021, people wanted to know “how to be happy alone.” The search ranked third last year in the “how to be” category. 

One way to break that isolation, according to one expert, is to volunteer. Licensed Professional Counselor Teddi Shriner says volunteering brings a greater social connectedness with a greater purpose about your life. 

 

An official advisory released in December of 2021 described a growing mental health crisis, especially among youth according to the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy. 

In fact, the Center for Disease Control says that over the past decade, the rates of reported sadness or hopelessness by high school students has increased to more than 1 in 3 students. 

These statistics are important to volunteering because according to a study, “16-24 and 55-74 year olds were especially likely to benefit from volunteering, perhaps because of the opportunity to build social connections and new skills.”

The CDC reports that over one in three high school students reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness. This is an increase of 40% from 2009 to 2019. (Graphic/Jameson Keasler)

Shriner says that people in these age groups might benefit most because “you’re also in a transition stage where you’re needing to learn more skills and connect with others.” 

 Despite the benefits of volunteering, it can be difficult to encourage groups of students to serve.

A Volunteer’s Story

James Scott, executive director at Sparrow’s Nest, an Athens, Georgia organization that helps people in need, says for him, volunteering comes from a spiritual place.  For his organization, serving people in need in the community goes hand in hand with creating opportunities for all kinds of people to get involved to serve.

How To Help

Whether it’s for a few hours a week or just an hour a month, Scott says that Sparrow’s Nest wants to create opportunities for any person who wants to get involved.

“You make it welcoming to whatever they want to commit to. If it’s 30 minutes, then cool. We get that, we get that. It could be for 30 minutes if it’s once a year… we understand that as well,” he said. 

Volunteering just might be that unknown variable that can help improve mental health.

Jameson Keasler is a senior majoring in journalism and minoring in communication studies.

 

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