Volunteering – improving your mental health.

During Mental Health Awareness Week, Volunteering Central highlighted the benefits of volunteering and the positive impact it has on an individual’s mental well-being and that of the wider community.

Alexandra based Jo O’Connor lives and breathes this notion. Jo works for WellSouth as a Health Promoter and as a volunteer she can talk first-hand about the benefits.

A born and bred Southlander, Jo grew up on farms in Eastern and Northern Southland before beginning work in Invercargill where she raised her two children. When the WellSouth health promotion role came up in Alexandra it was time to turn the family’s holiday destination into their permanent home.


“Through my work I get to travel all over the region working at something very dear to my heart – finding ways to keep our communities stay well. Mental Health Awareness week is a great time to remind people of the Five Ways to Wellbeing – Connect, me whakawhanaunga, Give, tukua, Take notice, me aro tonu, Keep learning, me ako tonu and Be active, me kori tonu.”

Volunteering ticks many of these boxes, most noticeably give, connect and keep learning. It can also help you keep active and take notice of so many different aspects in life.

Jo has always volunteered. Like many people, her roles evolved as her children grew up.

“From Parents Centre to Playcentre. School parent groups to Board of Trustees, sports coach and team manager, youth one stop shop board. My volunteering roles have been many and varied and I gain as much as I give.”

Living in Alex a lot of Jo’s volunteering time has gone into establishing the Central Lakes Breastfeeding Charitable Trust. When what she viewed as an essential service was cut, she felt the need to find another way to support families. To mix things up a little Jo also tickets for Central Cinema, is a member of Promote Alex and a keen supporter of the Alex Youthbase and their BLAST programme.

“When people step up and work together it can be fun and worthwhile. A group working together for common goals can achieve so much. Now I know the research behind it too -giving our time to help others is proven to be good for us! I can’t imagine my life without doing something for others.”

Volunteering brings with it highs and lows and Jo recalls a recent high when evaluating the Wanaka Well group. “The women shared their stories on just how big a difference being able to get support had made to their parenting journey and their own wellbeing. There were a few tears shed that day from all sides. Those of us who’d made it happen and the women sharing their stories.”

Like many community groups funding and finding balance can be a challenge so it’s crucial to find enough people, with the right skills and capacity at the right time to keep volunteering fun. Central Lakes Breastfeeding Charitable Trust are currently seeking a treasurer, so if you have financial skills or are keen to learn them, give Jo a call – she’d love to hear from you!

Jo is clearly a passionate volunteer who reaps the benefits of volunteering whilst giving a huge amount back to her local communities. So, what would she say to those considering volunteering?

“Just do it. Find something you love, a cause you are passionate about and the rewards will be so worth it.”

When not volunteering Jo loves getting out into our wonderful local environment with her own friends and family. “Oh and yoga and meditation. I’m a fan. Without all those things in my life I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”

Thank you Jo for all you do to promote wellbeing through your work and volunteering.

For more information about Well South head to https://wellsouth.nz/ and Mental Health Awareness Week visit  https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/