You probably don’t need to remember that our younger generations are struggling with a lot of mental health issues. As Gen Z reaches adulthood, 27% say 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 addressing poverty, homelessness, cycles of abuse and a host of other cultural issues can give you a remarkable sense of purpose and a sense of fulfillment.
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At some point in your life, I’m sure you’ve felt a sense of accomplishment when you sacrificed yourself to help someone in need. Nothing leaves you more satisfied than giving back, whether it’s to a family member, neighbor or someone halfway around the world.
Considering the needs of others can help your own problems
What if we started saying that one of the best ways to reverse the course of poor mental health is to consider the needs of those around us? By helping others solve some of society’s toughest problems, Americans could also address their own mental health issues.
We have both empirical and anecdotal evidence that helping others improves mental health. Consider a young woman who moved to Los Angeles to enroll in the Dream Center Leadership School to serve those less fortunate in Los Angeles. She was anxious, had low self-confidence, and carried many unhealed wounds from past relationships.
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But she adopted a goal during her leadership training to become an empowered leader who would shape the culture and bring about lasting change. She learned trust, and she learned to accept being loved and being herself without shame. She is convinced that this paradigm shift has changed her life.
The personal benefits of service
A report published by the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine in 2005 found a correlation between being compassionate towards others and having better well-being, happiness and health. And in 2016, the American Psychosomatic Society published a study showing that the benefits of giving are linked to reduced stress. The study concluded that providing social support to other people can benefit the health of those who give themselves.
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Helping others won’t solve everyone’s depression and anxiety, but it can help many people find purpose and passion, which can comfort and motivate us even in difficult times.
Countless ways to help others
Maybe you are a young leader or want to become one. I encourage you to get busy helping others. Maybe you are one of the millions of people struggling with mental health issues. I encourage you to step out, even in your pain, and find a way to bless even one other person around you.
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There are countless ways to help at shelters, hospitals, churches, synagogues, after-school programs, and beyond. If you find yourself stuck with no place to serve, I invite you to consider volunteering at the Dream Center. We’ll put you to work providing a lifeline to those struggling with addiction, homelessness, poverty and abuse.
It might just help you 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 nonprofit, faith-based organization 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