The benefits of service: Helping others helps oneself
By Julie Filby
Contact: parish offices, local charities
Christ calls the faithful to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and visit the sick through corporal acts of mercy. An advantage: not only will these good works help those on the receiving end; they benefit those who perform them as well.
Acts of service and charity, such as working as a missionary or a volunteer, have proven to benefit a donor’s mental health by building confidence and relationship, providing a sense of purpose and community, and enhancing fidelity to one’s Christian nature.
“Mental health is not just the absence of a particular psychological illness, but the presence of positive psychological characteristics,” explained Father David Songy, O.F.M. Cap. “Those who are able to demonstrate care for others generally have a strong reserve of qualities such as self-confidence, empathy and compassion—all positive signs of psychological resilience.”
Father Songy, a priest of the Capuchin Franciscan Friars Mid-America Province, has served as a counselor since 1991 and a licensed psychologist since 2001. He has seen how people have benefitted psychologically from serving others.
“First, one is no longer focused solely on oneself,” he said. “Preoccupation with one’s own problems often increases negative symptoms.
“Second, serving others is satisfying and increases a person’s sense of competence, usefulness and goodness,” he added.
Senite Sahlezghi, 22, is currently a Christ in the City missionary in Denver, working on the Homeless Task Force. Through her experience, and education—she holds a degree in mental health and human services from Franciscan University of Steubenville—she has seen and experienced the psychological benefits of corporal acts of mercy firsthand.
“Service brings you out of yourself (and) lets you find yourself ... and find God,” she said. “You’re forced to love others in a very selfless manner.”
“As hard as it is” doing street ministry, and working in shelters such as Catholic Charities’ Samaritan House and the Missionaries of Charity’s Gift of Mary shelter, Sahlezghi said she “gets so much out of it.”
“(Service) promotes wellness in an individual,” she said. “It promotes a wholeness and a well-roundedness that’s necessary, because the whole point of mental health is to get to a point of balance.
“How can we live that balance,” she asserted, “if we don’t involve others in our lives?”
This type of involvement illustrates how psychological health goes beyond the individual to impact society at-large.
“Psychological health is greater than the mental health of a particular individual; it touches the lives of one’s family and community,” said Father Songy. “Serving others will positively affect the psychological health of society on a broad basis. Serving others with the compassion of Jesus Christ will lead to the conversion of many.”
Sahlezghi, a graduate of Denver’s St. James Grade School and Bishop Machebeuf High School, encounters Christ in those she serves and hopes that likewise, they encounter him through her.
“God is just so evident in (service),” she said.
When discerning a call to service, Sahlezghi suggested exploring areas where one feels most connected.
“’Do that which best stirs you to love,’” she said, quoting St. Teresa of Avila. “For me it was the poor; for others it’s pro-life, or kids or the elderly … we’re all different. (God) created us that way so we could be lights in different situations.”
Finding an opportunity that is a good match can help one overcome uncertainties.
“Advocate and serve in the areas you feel called to, and do it selflessly,” she said. “Love recklessly! There’s so much fear and caution behind it … (but) there are so many good causes that we can all be a part of.”
To find out about volunteer opportunities, contact your parish office, local charities or visit www.christinthecitymissionaries.com/volunteer-programs/denver-volunteer-opportunities for a list of Denver-area churches, schools, shelters, children’s programs and other organizations in need of volunteers.