Helping others does you good

June 9th, 2012 by Mental Health Foundation

(please click on the publication cover to go to the download page)

The UK charity, Mental Health Foundation, has published its Doing Good? report.

The report highlights the impact that helping others has on people’s mental health and well-being, following a public attitude survey which showed that people believe society has become more selfish.

The UK faces challenging and unstable times with volatile economic markets and job uncertainty. Many people say they feel too stressed and busy to worry about helping others or say they will focus on doing good deeds when they have more ‘spare time’ but the evidence shows that helping others is beneficial for people’s mental health and well-being.

It can:

  • help reduce stress
  • help improve emotional well-being
  • benefit physical health
  • bring a sense of belonging and reduce isolation
  • help us live longer
  • get rid of negative feelings

The Mental Health Foundation commissioned YouGov to carry out a survey in order to understand people’s attitudes.

The charity asked participants if they felt people were doing enough to help others compared to ten years ago and how often they carried out acts of kindness for others.

The survey revealed that 67% of participants thought that people were less likely to go out of their way to be kind to a stranger compared to ten years ago and 76% felt that people were more selfish and materialistic than they were 10 years ago.

However, according to the poll, 80% of people agreed that being kind to others can have a positive effect on people’s health and 87% said that they felt good when they carry out an act of kindness for someone.

Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said “although it’s worrying that people feel society has become more selfish, our research also showed that the majority of people agree that being kind to others can have a positive effect on their own health and that they feel good when they carry out an act of kindness for someone.”

“Many people engage in volunteering, mentoring and small acts of kindness, such as letting someone in front of them in a queue, holding the door open for a stranger and giving up their seat on public transport.”

With this in mind, during Mental Health Awareness Week we called for the public to carry out more acts of kindness to improve their own mental well-being and that of the UK. They don’t need to be big things, cost a lot of money,or be time consuming.”

“To help the nation get started, the Mental Health Foundatione produced a handy pocket guide filled with useful ideas and tips for making helping others part of daily life,” he said.

Dr Dan Robotham, the lead author of the report said “Churchill once said, we make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”

“Scientific evidence shows that helping others has benefits for our mental and physical health. It promotes positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness, can bring a sense of purpose and reduce isolation, can help get rid of negative feelings such as anger, aggression or hostility, and may even help us live longer,” he said.

In order to help the nation do more good deeds, the Mental Health Foundation has made the following recommendations:

  • Schools, nurseries and playgroups should encourage acts of kindness, peer support and a culture of volunteering from childhood.
  • Schools, universities and colleges should encourage children and young people to volunteer in local communities
  • Employers should promote mentally healthy workplaces through encouraging and supporting altruistic activities amongst the workforce, such as colleague mentoring programmes.
  • Employers should recognise the role of volunteering as a way to develop skills. Particular attention should be paid to supporting the transition to retirement, creating programmes that support older employees to redefine their identities as contributing members of their communities after they have left work.
  • Commissioners of services aiming to support vulnerable groups should invest in volunteering and peer support services, for socially isolated groups such as older people, people with mental health problems and people with learning disabilities. Supporting people to contribute may result in reciprocal community support networks being developed.
  • Government should prioritise investment in third sector organisations designed to promote volunteering and Time Banks. These organisations need to be supported to extend these opportunities to isolated people. Training for voluntary sector staff should be provided to help them engage with potential volunteers who may require additional support.


The survey interviewed 2037 people, of which 1048 were female.  Of the people interviewed 67% either strongly agreed or agreed that “people are less likely to go out of their way to be kind or do something helpful for a stranger now compared to ten years ago.”

Of the respondents, 80% either strongly agreed or agreed that “being kind to other people can have a positive effect on ones own health.”

When carrying out an act of kindness 87% of the respondents said it made them feel good.

Regrettably 76% of the survey respondents thought that “people in society are not more selfish and materialistic than they were ten years ago.”


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