The importance of being of service to others

Headshot of Dr Loretta Poerio

Dr Loretta Poerio
Senior Mental Health Adviser
Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said that life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’.

The principle of ‘service’ is a core value of the Australian Defence Force – the selflessness of character to place the security and interests of our nation and its people ahead of my own. The Australian community has at its core a sense of community, a sense of having a go, and of looking after your mates.

Australians spend more than 700 million hours volunteering each year, according to Volunteering Australia. Contributing to the health and wellbeing of others is something that as Australians we are very good at. Look at the outpouring of goodwill and generosity during our current pandemic, the recent bushfires, floods, and any other disaster that has beset the nation, where we roll up our sleeves and help. We have also been there when others have experienced disasters, including our Pacific neighbours.

These acts of service to others, these acts of kindness, not only benefit the receiver, but also the giver. Giving our time willingly to help others has been found to improve health in a number of domains. It promotes belonging, boosts feel-good hormones such as serotonin, increases self-esteem and brings a sense of purpose, of making a difference, to our lives and the lives of others.

For those dealing with mental health challenges, volunteering has been found to help people feel more socially connected, creating healthier relationships and lessening social isolation, loneliness and depression. Research has also shown that volunteering may also lower stress and blood pressure and promote longevity.

There are many ways you can be of service within the veteran community. Here are some suggestions:

Mentor Afghan refugees: What has transpired in Afghanistan over recent months has shocked, angered and saddened many. For those who would like to assist, there is an organisation that would love your help. Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia (CRSA) is inviting serving and ex-serving personnel and their families to support Afghan refugees and evacuees arriving in Australia. The organisation is asking for volunteers to become mentors to assist newly arrived refugees to find a home, learn English, and/or find employment. CRSA is running online public information sessions to provide more information and answer questions people may have. For more information, including how to apply, visit the Group Mentorship Program page of the CRSA website.

Legacy: You can make a difference to the families who have experienced the loss or injury of a loved one in military service. There are many ways you can get involved, from fundraising to volunteering. These include becoming a community visitor, lending your expertise in areas such as IT, marketing or fundraising, being a friendly voice over the phone, or helping during Legacy week. Visit

Veterans’ Health Week (VHW): VHW takes place every year, in October, and is a great opportunity to get involved in a range of creative and fun activities within the veteran community. Each year focuses on a specific theme from social connection, physical activity, through to nutrition. Ex-service or community organisations with established links to the veteran community are eligible to apply for VHW funding or to register an event on the VHW website – including unfunded events. Activities include fitness events, trivia challenges, as well as gardening, cooking and woodworking workshops. Visit the VHW page of the DVA website.

Men’s Health Peer Education (MHPE) program: The program operates nationally through a network of trained volunteers and aims to raise awareness about men’s health issues in the veteran community.

The program supports and educates members of the veteran and ex-serving community and encourages men to be pro-active in their own health and wellbeing.

The program has been running for more than 20 years and is supported by DVA and the ex-serving community. Visit the MHPE page of the DVA website.

A list of ex-service organisations in Australia can be found on the ESO page of the DVA website. If you are interested in volunteering more generally, information can be found on the Volunteering Australia website, which has fact sheets for volunteers.

It also links to Volunteer Resource Centres in each state and territory.

You can search for volunteer positions in your local area through the Go Volunteer website.

Importantly, ReachOut has information on ways to look after yourself while volunteering.

It can be very satisfying to feel that we have helped make someone’s day or life a little better.

There is also satisfaction, or course, in being thanked for being of assistance. In these unprecedented times, it is even more important to remember that a little bit of kindness can go an awful long way.