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Kids Who Help, Heal

SMILE! Aiding your community, such as by volunteering at a community garden, might improve your mental health. JOSE LUIS PELAEZ, INC./GETTY IMAGES

A recent study says volunteering can be good for your health. Could it offer a way through the youth mental health crisis?

Kids who volunteer aren’t just helping their community. They might be helping themselves. That’s according to a recent study in JAMA Network Open. It found that volunteering through school or community groups is associated with better wellness among children and teens.

The study compared kids who participated in community service with those who didn’t. Kids who volunteered were 66% more likely to be considered “flourishing,” or doing well in general. And kids ages 12 and older who volunteered were 25% less likely to have anxiety than peers who didn’t. The findings come from survey data. Parents of some 50,000 kids in the United States ages 6 to 17 took the survey.

Studies like this have limitations. The data can’t prove cause and effect. It can only show associations. So it’s not possible to say for sure that volunteering leads to better mental and physical health. It could be that people in good health are more likely to have the energy to volunteer. But the data comes at an important time. Rates of depression and anxiety have risen among young people. More than 40% of high school students reported experiencing feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2021.

So there’s a clear need for mental health resources. Giving back to the community may be one such resource. And this study isn’t the only one to reach that conclusion. Previous research has also found links between volunteering and well-being among adults. Serving the community seems to help people feel a sense of purpose. And it makes them feel connected to those around them. Generosity has also been shown to boost happiness and physical health. So give it a try, for your health.