HR & EDUCATION | editor, Singapore
Tess Mackean

If you find your mental health improving after volunteering, you're not alone


Mental wellbeing is of utmost priority this year, and as we explore different ways of self-care, there is one that stands out for its net-positive impact. We have been seeing more Singaporeans step forward and volunteer their time for pro-bono consulting with charities, and this trend has increased since Phase 3 of the circuit breaker. With their help, local charities have been able to create significant changes for their organisations, including better management, clearer communication, and more rigorous budgeting. But there is an unspoken impact of all our efforts - that helping others helps our mental health.

The impact on mental health
Skills-based volunteering not only creates lasting impact for the charities but also on the individuals, especially those going through tough times during the pandemic. Nearly 90% of Singaporeans felt that volunteering with charities was a way to cope with challenges brought on by the pandemic and improve their mental health, according to research conducted in November 2020 by talenTtrust and YouGov.

Some of us have struggled with new challenges such as having our jobs negatively impacted or being unable to visit our loved ones abroad. It is in this moment when we realise that there may be others who have it worse off, and stepping up to help them does bring us some relief, knowing we have been able to touch their lives.

Chart 1: 9 out of 10 Singaporeans believe that volunteering helps improve their mental health

The research, which surveyed over 1000 Singaporeans on their intent and motivations of their charitable habits, demonstrates a common belief among Singaporeans that time spent with underprivileged groups will alleviate COVID-19-related stress.

This statistic was most pronounced among the Millennial and Gen-X demographic, and when asked how they would prefer to contribute to society, stated a higher preference for volunteering over donating money or items.

Our Kampung Spirit is weaved into our social fabric
One of our strongest traits as a nation is that we have a propensity to look after one another, and the COVID-19 pandemic has awakened the generosity and empathy of Singaporeans, with people looking out for one another more than ever. Some social enterprises such as Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen are often fully booked out, with volunteers reserving their spots weeks and months in advance. Families also make time for acts of charity on a frequent basis, ranging from once a week to once a month.
During the pandemic, we saw how swiftly Singaporeans stepped up to help migrant workers with food, money, and items, to make them a little more comfortable while staying in their dormitories during the lockdown. Most recently, Singaporeans have increasingly chosen to donate their entire $100 SingapoRediscover vouchers so migrant workers can have a chance to experience the Singapore Flyer, an initiative made possible by homegrown social enterprise, It’s Raining Raincoats.

In the latest World Giving Index which looks at data from 2018, well before the impacts of the pandemic hit the nation, Singapore ranked 9th globally with regards to time spent volunteering. With Singaporeans understanding that volunteering their time is most effective for charities and at the same time turning recognising it as a way to improve mental health, Singapore may perform better on the World Giving Index once social distancing measures ease across the island.

Finding a cause that resonates with us

Chart 2: Nearly 40% of Singaporeans would volunteer for a cause that they believe in

The research also demonstrated that the top reason why someone would choose to volunteer, is if they find a cause they resonate with, according to nearly 40% of the Singaporean population. We are on a mission to partner with as many charities as we can, and for all our efforts we want volunteers to find a cause that they truly support.

Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), shared, "It was invaluable learning how to take a step back from the daily struggles of running a charity to see the bigger picture. The exercises we went through especially in the earlier meetings were very useful as it reminded me why I joined the SPCA and the animal welfare movement and reminded me about the changes I wanted to make."

Our volunteers have been instrumental in helping us achieve our mission. Tasneem Narulla, a volunteer with the Ronald McDonald House Charities, added, “I was able to use my experience and skillset to contribute to a good cause and not just my job which gave me immense pleasure. I liked that I was helping someone else achieve their goals and in turn magnifying my small contribution.”

It is heartening to see the synergistic impact of volunteering, beyond helping charities but also helping the volunteers themselves improve their mental wellbeing. Knowing that we are leagues closer in achieving our vision of happier charities, happier people, is the silver lining in last year’s dark cloud.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Tess Mackean

Tess Mackean

Tess Mackean is the CEO of talenTtrust, a registered charity in Singapore that facilitates skills-based volunteering. In this role, Tess is an expert in the charity sector in Singapore and across Asia, working closely with locally-registered NPOs (non-profit organisations) and IPCs (Institution of Public Character) to help them excel and endure.

With over 16 years of experience actively engaging with NPOs in Asia and the UK, Tess previously held senior leadership roles in the social sector, including Country Manager, Singapore for, an Asian online fundraising platform.

Before moving to Singapore, Tess was the Global Brand Manager for World Animal Protection (formerly WSPA) a global animal welfare charity, and Marketing Manager at City & Guilds for Business, the startup commercial wing of UK charity City & Guilds.

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