At the start of Social Prescribing Week, national health and wellbeing charity, Royal Voluntary Service is releasing new research identifying the impact of volunteering as a social prescribing tool.
Volunteers have always been vital in delivering social prescriptions, but the charity now has evidence that the act of volunteering also makes an enormous difference to the physical and mental health of the volunteers themselves, particularly for those who report having an underlying health condition.
A survey of 2,500 UK adults exploring their social relationships, health and wellbeing over the past 12 months, identified 746 with an underlying health condition. The research found that those living with health conditions were more likely to report being always/often lonely, state that their mental and physical health had declined in the past 12 months, and have lower levels of confidence compared with those living without health conditions.
However, those with underlying health conditions that volunteered throughout the pandemic were ‘buffered’ from declines in health and wellbeing. Fewer reported being always/often lonely (9% vs 13%), greater numbers reported gaining confidence socialising with others (15% vs 5%) and improved mental health (18% vs 9%). Most significant was physical health, 35% stated that their physical health was ‘much better or a bit better’ (vs only 8% of non-volunteers).
The data is supported by other research; in a survey of the NHS Volunteer Responders programme (n=12,019)
“The pandemic has enabled us to measure the impact of volunteering in ways we couldn’t do before – because so many people stepped forward. The benefits associated with volunteering are now well documented within the medical science literature. As we look ahead to improving population health and wellbeing, we should view volunteering as a key public health intervention and a potentially powerful social prescription tool for those struggling to manage their long-term conditions.”
Dr Allison Smith, Head of Strategy & Insight for Royal Voluntary Service
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