Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Philip S. Brenner

Second Advisor

Reef Youngreen

Third Advisor

Tunde Turi-Markovic


Since the late 1990’s, there has been a dearth of literature on the positive effects of volunteering on the mental health (particularly depressive symptoms) of adolescents and young adults. However, across these past three decades, the depression rates among this same population have been increasing while the level of self-esteem and psychological well-being have been decreasing. Given the many benefits of volunteering, the discrepancy between mixed research results and mental health outcomes among this age group led to the development of a more holistic model of mental health. To better understand and develop treatments for mood and anxiety disorders among adolescents and young adults, an integrative model of mental health identity was created by combining aspects of identity theory, stress theory, and labeling theory. Within this theoretical framework, prosocial activities, such as volunteering, are able to influence mental health by changing self-perceptions (identity theory), stressors (stress theory), and reflected appraisals (labeling theory); in this way, volunteerism becomes a stress mediator. This model suggests that stress mediation through increases in social support and coping mechanisms could positively impact mental health, even if not directly. The Youth Development Survey 1988-1995 is the panel study that was selected to test these relationships. The panel data followed a group of ninth graders for eight years (780 participants) and, among other things, measure volunteerism, depressive symptoms, self-esteem, and psychological well-being. Through the use of structural equation modeling, the direct and mediating relationships across these variables was modeled and tested to provide support for the integrative model. The study findings indeed suggest that the relationship between volunteering and self-esteem and psychological well-being is significantly positive. However, the relationship between volunteerism and depressive symptoms is mediating, working through the increases in self-esteem and psychological well-being to reduce depressive symptoms. Both of these findings support the integrative model and suggest that strong, positive identities can be used to reduce stress by increasing social support and coping resources, subsequently decreasing the negative mental health effects of stress. This integrative model also addresses the inconsistencies in the volunteerism literature while creating a holistic model for understanding mental health identity development.


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