Doing good and feeling well : understanding the relationship between volunteering and mental wellbeing in older adult populations through the application of a social-cognitive theory of depression : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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Previous research indicates that volunteering can improve positive psychological wellbeing, and protect against the onset of depressive symptoms amongst older adults. However, the mechanisms at play in the relationship remain unclear. This research project analysed two data sets in order to test the predictions of a social-cognitive theory of depression as it applies to the volunteering-psychological wellbeing relationship. A social cognitive theory of depression (as described by Oatley and Bolton (1985)) suggests that older adults are susceptible to symptoms of depression and reduced psychological wellbeing when difficult life events limit their ability to maintain social roles that have previously facilitated investment in valued facets of their self-concept. Therefore, volunteering may compensate for such role losses by enabling older adults to continue to contribute to their sense of self through their volunteering role, and subsequently protect them from the effects that such role-loss may have on their psychological functioning. Using longitudinal data from a New Zealand-based sample, this research illustrates that older adults who have relatively poorer physical health are more likely to be protected from experiences of depressive symptoms as a result of consistently volunteering than those who experience higher levels of health. Analyses of longitudinal data also provide some evidence that employment status may moderate the impact of volunteering consistency on protection against symptoms of depression. In addition, analyses of cross-sectional data demonstrate a relationship between contributions to self-concept through the enactment of social roles, and better psychological wellbeing. This research also suggests that the extent to which negative life events limit a person’s ability to invest in their sense of self is related to psychological wellbeing outcomes. Finally, it is suggested that the amount of investment in self-concept facilitated by a volunteering role is related to psychological wellbeing. However, investment in self-concept through volunteering was not shown to moderate the relationship between pertinent life stressors, and psychological wellbeing. To a large extent, these findings align with a social-cognitive theory of depression (Oatley & Bolton, 1985), but they raise questions about the way that compensatory coping through social role changes has previously been theorised.
Voluntarism, Well-being, Age factors, Older people, Psychology, Psychological aspects, Depression in old age, Research Subject Categories::SOCIAL SCIENCES::Social sciences::Psychology