Volunteerism as a Support Tool for Depression Among Teenagers

Volunteerism as a Support Tool for Depression Among Teenagers

Hello Readers,


Rates of teenage depression by age (years).

I hope you had a wonderful week and maybe even indulged in a bit of theatre (like our High School students). So, dear Readers, my questions for you today are: Looking back at this past week, what did you do with your leisure time? Did you participate in any sports? Did you catch up on your favourite television shows? Did you volunteer in your community? Well, as part of each student’s OSSD requirements and our educational vision, our students are actively encouraged to volunteer in activities they enjoy. We, as an educational institution, firmly believe that volunteering helps students to form important life skills that will promote growth in transitioning from student into responsible adult and citizen.

Recent scientific results published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seem to reinforce the importance of volunteering! The study, conducted at Urbana Champaign at The University of Illinois, found that students who prefer more altruistic past times are less likely to experience teenage depression. These results are so significant because teenage depression is a growing concern for today’s generation of students, with 11% of adolescents being diagnosed before the age of 19. In finding a place where students enjoy their volunteering experience, we can work together to find another preventative measure to assist struggling students!

Ventral Stratium

A diagram of the brain pinpointing the location of the ventral stratium, our reward centre.

So, how does volunteering help prevent depression? Well, Eva Telzer and her colleagues at the university discovered — while using a functional brain scan — that activity in the Ventral Striatum (the reward centre of the brain) in response to different rewards predicted whether the subjects’ depressive symptoms would worsen or lessen over time. When teenagers showed higher levels of reward activation in the ventral striatum in the context of the risk-taking task, they showed increases in depressive symptoms over time. In contrast, when a teenager showed higher reward activation in the pro-social context, they showed declines in depression over time. So then what does this all really mean? One implication is that meaningful and enjoyable student volunteerism (which promotes social connection) may be used to shape internal reward systems through varying activity in the Ventral Striatum. Further, community service may provide more to a body of students than just an OSSD requirement, it may help to promote stronger mental health.

If you are interested in reading more about this seminal study, you can find the article here:

H. Telzer, A. J. Fuligni, M. D. Lieberman, A. Galvan. Neural sensitivity to eudaimonic and hedonic rewards differentially predict adolescent depressive symptoms over time. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: http://www.scn.ucla.edu/pdf/TelzerLieberman2014PNAS.pdf

Educational Research High School