Volunteering eases kids' mental illness odds: study

·2-min read
Chris Crerar/AAP PHOTOS

Children who volunteer before reaching their teenage years are almost one-third more likely to avoid poor mental health, a new national study shows.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies report, released on Monday to coincide with National Volunteer Week, draws a link between children volunteering and their mental wellbeing.

The Melbourne-based federal agency found the odds of a child suffering poor mental health were reduced by about 28 per cent if they volunteered before the age of 13.

Those who demonstrated "prosocial" behaviours, such as caring for others or carrying out acts of kindness, were also 11 per cent less likely to experience mental ill health.

The data comes from Growing Up in Australia, a longitudinal study following the development of 10,000 children since 2003.

Researchers kept tabs on the children from the ages of four and five through to 16 and 17 to examine what effect the cultivation or promotion of "prosocial" behaviours and volunteering had on mental health.

Poor mental health symptoms rose in the children with each year of their development and increased substantially between the ages of 13 and 17.

Volunteering can take many forms, such as helping at a local community sports club, participating in a community working bee, or more formal volunteering with a charity or church group.

"It's the act of helping others in the wider community, and building empathy and understanding, that is a critical protective factor against mental ill health," AIFS researcher Karlee O'Donnell said.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said the research was further proof young people should consider volunteering.

"We know the number of volunteers fell during COVID and our government is committed to doing all we can to highlight the importance of volunteering," she said.

Lifeline 13 11 14

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)