Helping others can yield its own rewards

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of mental health articles. They will run on the Life section cover each Thursday in May.

Jackie Robinson revolutionized Major League Baseball by breaking what had been the sport’s color barrier and becoming its first African American player in 1947.

Robinson’s famous motto was that “A life is not important except in the impact that it has on other lives.”

Jackie Robinson made a wonderful contribution to humanity and baseball by becoming a trailblazer, a pioneer, and a hero.

Because of Robinson, Major League Baseball was changed positively forever.

Though he died way before his time at the age of 53 in 1972, Robinson left a lasting legacy.

The same could be said for many other humanitarians — among them, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and Jesus Christ.

It could be argued that nothing is more important, enduring, or meaningful than the contributions that a person makes to help other people.

Whether it’s a parent’s contributions toward the benefit of his or her children, a doctor’s contributions toward the health and well-being of his or her patients, or a pastor’s contributions toward the spiritual welfare of his or her congregation, it is those things that are done that make a difference in the lives of others which ultimately become the most important and fulfilling endeavors.

Serving and helping others can also be important for the stability, well-being and happiness of those whose lives are affected by mental illness.

A mild- to moderately-depressed person can derive an increased sense of purpose and meaning by volunteering at a soup kitchen, helping an elderly neighbor, or participating in a charity fundraiser.

Humans are generally hard-wired to help their fellow brothers and sisters, and doing so reaps its own rewards.

A person living with a mental illness — to the degree to which he or she is able to do so — can transcend his or her own pain by being of service to others.

“It gets you outside of yourself, first of all,” Denis Navarro, retired outpatient services supervisor and clinical specialist at the UPMC Altoona Behavorial Health Services Department, said of how helping others can improve one’s own sense of well-being. “Because a lot of times, mental-health conditions are related to turning inward, and focusing on internal things — which is not a good thing because all of a sudden, you’re paying more attention (to the fact that you) don’t feel good, or (that) you’re sad.”

Focusing on another person, or on a cause, can break up that unhealthy preoccupation with one’s own personal problems or difficulties.

“If you do something for others, you’re not only stepping outside of yourself, but just intrinsically, doing something for others makes you feel better, and usually, the person who you’re doing it for will appreciate it,” Navarro said.

Dr. Joseph Antonowicz, medical director at the UPMC Altoona Behavioral Health Services Department, concurs with this theory.

“It makes sense that getting involved in community activities, getting involved in the greater good — in something outside of yourself — is going to have beneficial effects,” Antonowicz said. “On a biochemical level, it makes a difference.”

Next: Examining the importance of problem-solving.

John Hartsock can be reached at jhartsock@altoona mirror.com.

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