You likely don’t need a reminder that our youngest generations are plagued with numerous mental health issues. As Generation Z reaches adulthood, 27% report their mental health is fair or poor, a higher percentage than previous generations.
But what you might find encouraging is an unconventional perspective on what could help relieve the anxiety and stress that are so common: Helping others helps ourselves.
What I mean by this is that spending time in your community tackling poverty, homelessness, cycles of abuse and a host of other cultural woes can give you a remarkable sense of purpose and sense of fulfillment.
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At some point over the course of your life, I’m sure you have felt a sense of accomplishment when you’ve sacrificed to help someone in need. Nothing leaves you with more satisfaction than giving back, whether that’s to a family member, a neighbor or someone halfway around the globe.
Considering others' needs can help your own problems
So what if we start advocating that one of the best ways to reverse course on poor mental health is to consider the needs of those around us? By helping others remedy some of society’s toughest problems, Americans might also remedy their own mental health struggles.
We have both empirical and anecdotal evidence that helping others improves mental health. Consider one young woman who moved to Los Angeles to enroll in the Dream Center Leadership School to serve those most destitute in Los Angeles. She was anxious, had little self-confidence and carried a lot of unhealed hurts caused by past relationships.
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But she adopted a goal during her leadership training to become an empowered leader who would shape culture and make lasting change. She learned confidence, and she learned to accept being loved and to be herself unapologetically. She is convinced this paradigm shift was life-altering for her.
The personal benefits of service
A report published by the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine in 2005 found a correlation between being compassionate toward others and having better well-being, happiness and health. And in 2016 the American Psychosomatic Society published a study demonstrating that the benefits of giving are related to reduced stress. The study concluded that providing social support for other people can benefit the health of those who give of themselves.
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Helping others won't resolve everyone’s depression and anxiety, but it can help many people find purpose and passion, which can comfort and motivate us even in hard times.
Countless ways to help others
Perhaps you’re a young leader or want to be one. I encourage you to get busy helping others. Perhaps you are one of the millions of people who struggle with mental health issues. I encourage you to step out, even in your pain, and find a way to bless even just one other person around you.
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There are countless ways to help at shelters, hospitals, churches, synagogues, afterschool programs and elsewhere. If you find yourself stuck without a place to serve, I invite you to consider volunteering at the Dream Center. We’ll put you to work offering a lifeline to those battling addiction, homelessness, poverty and abuse.
It may well help you just as much as it helps our neighbors.
Matthew Barnett is co-founder of the Los Angeles Dream Center and senior pastor of Angelus Temple. The Dream Center is a faith-based nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of individuals and families in Los Angeles through residential and outreach programs.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Advice for Gen Z: Helping people can reduce anxiety, stress