Most of us know how to keep physically fit, and recognise that it’s important to build some sort of exercise into our busy lifestyles. However, we’re less likely to take active steps to protect our mental health, and as a nation we’re experiencing a mental health epidemic. 1 in 6 adults has a common mental health problem (like anxiety or depression), and 20% have even considered taking their own lives.

Self-care is an important tool in maintaining good mental health, but perhaps more surprisingly, volunteering can also have phenomenal benefits. While volunteering should never replace seeking medical help for a mental health issue, it really can boost your emotional wellbeing.

That’s one of the reasons why Bookmark, the literacy charity, have quite literally put volunteering at your fingertips. Volunteers can book reading sessions at a local primary school, based on when they’re free, through the pioneering Bookmark app. Volunteers read with the same child for 6-weeks during half hour sessions, helping an early reader to develop their literacy skills, extend their vocabulary and find enjoyment in reading. So what exactly are the emotional benefits of volunteering? Here are just three that are grounded in research (and reinforced by Bookmark’s volunteers!)

1. Making a difference

Quite simply, volunteering is rewarding. A report by the NCVO shows that 90% of volunteers felt that they had made a difference. With Bookmark’s volunteer programme, volunteers go into a local primary school for an hour a week, for six weeks, helping children who are falling behind with their reading. By reading with the same child for that time, our volunteers watch them progress and gain confidence, and they find this experience incredibly fulfilling. Having a focus and clear sense of purpose is an important aspect to us feeling mentally well.

2. Gaining confidence and skills

The National Citizen Service found that volunteering helps to reduce anxiety and improve confidence. Volunteering enables you to step outside of your comfort zone, and taking on a new challenge, no matter what it is, is a sure-fire way to boost your self-esteem. Many people choose to volunteer to feel more confident in their working lives, and volunteering in a school, like with Bookmark, can help people develop some important professional skills, as outlined in the Lloyds Volunteer Skills Matrix. Inspiring and motivating another person, as Bookmark’s volunteers do with their readers in schools, is an excellent way to develop communication and leadership skills.

3. Being part of a community

Many of us feel detached from the communities that we live in, especially if we are leading fast-paced, urban lives. Volunteering in our community, like our local primary school, connects us back to our local area and fosters a sense of belonging. NCVO has found volunteering to be a particularly successful way of reducing feelings of isolation. Volunteers also get the perk of joining a volunteer community with like-minded people who share their values and interests. This is particularly beneficial to those who are in a new environment, like a new city or university, as they gain access to a ready-made network.

If you’d like to improve your mental wellbeing as a Bookmark volunteer, please visit . Supporting a child to read will have such a profound impact on their future. In fact, the OECD found that reading for pleasure is the most important indicator of the future success of a child and more important than their socio-economic background. So, please do consider changing a child’s story – you never know, you may also end up changing your own!