Volunteering with Disaster Relief Australia saves lives

Volunteering with Disaster Relief Australia saves lives

“…See, the easiest way I can put it is probably Disaster Relief Australia saved my life. that's how I feel for sure.” is among the proof from a recent study that volunteering with DRA improves wellbeing.

DRA brings hope to communities devastated by disaster.

We always knew helping people during their worst days gives volunteers a sense of purpose and, in some cases saves their lives, but now we have the proof via a Wellbeing Study.

Funded by a Movember Foundation research grant and led by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), the Wellbeing Study focused on more than 700 DRA volunteers to explore if service in DRA leads to improvement in mental health and wellbeing.

The final report will soon be released, however an October 2023 interim report provides scientific proof of the following:

Volunteering with DRA improves wellbeing

  • DRA volunteers, on average, show significant improvements in most mental health outcomes. These effects are sustained over the longer-term.
  • Volunteering with DRA had the greatest impact on vulnerable veterans. It made them feel useful and regain a sense of purpose, often when they felt they had few options left.

The way DRA supports wellbeing is unique from mainstay interventions

  • The way in which service in DRA leads to improved mental health outcomes and a lower risk of suicide is distinct from mainstay interventions such as psychological therapy.
  • DRA activities map primarily onto drivers of wellbeing that serve to protect people from developing serious illness and behaviours (such as suicide), as well as aiding in recovery.
  • By focusing on disaster relief, veterans were able to find a sense of pride in their military service (often over-coming feelings of guilt and shame). This allowed them to reframe military service in a positive light while performing a national good.

How is DRA supporting wellbeing differently from mainstay interventions?

The Wellbeing Study identified four main drivers that provide a holistic support system for volunteer wellbeing through:

An informal support network

  • Connection – DRA provides an environment in which volunteers can form strong friendships, with personal relationships being a big driver for any wellbeing impact. DRA supports connection with family, friends and the community through shared experiences, where volunteers are physically active in the service of others.
  • Supportive conversations – the creation of strong friendships provides a comfortable environment for supportive conversations, particularly for vulnerable volunteers, some of whom prefer informal conversations over formal psychological therapy.
  • The supportive conversation and connection with likeminded people ultimately creates an informal support network for DRA volunteers. DRA volunteers have a higher than usual wellbeing literacy. This is attributed to DRA’s intentional focus on wellbeing-related training for volunteers and the support of a national wellbeing team.

Active Volunteering

DRA offers the opportunity to be physically active in the service of others. Being physically engaged in activity is a well-known contributor to better overall health outcomes.

Personal Development

DRA provides multiple professional development opportunities. These opportunities are both informal and formal and volunteers can choose their own path to upskilling, at no cost to them. Volunteers can choose to engage in training opportunities ranging from aerial damage assessment to mental health first aid, to using a chainsaw and enhanced computer skills, depending on their area of interest. Learning new skills is known to lead to improved self-worth.


Volunteering with DRA provides an opportunity for volunteers to be recognised by fellow volunteers and the broader community in their efforts to support communities in their darkest hour. This recognition provides an opportunity to stimulate self-worth.

What drivers of wellbeing does volunteering with DRA map to?

The Wellbeing Study Interim Report illustrates that DRA activities map primarily onto drivers of wellbeing (belonging, purpose, self-worth, recognition, enjoyment, and hope). These drivers help protect people from serious illness and behaviours (such as suicide).

More information and a copy of the interim report is available via DRA’s website Wellbeing Study Interim Report

Veteran-led, everyone welcome

DRA welcomes miliary veterans, emergency responders and motivated civilians to sign up as volunteers.

DRA unites the skills and experience of its volunteers to deploy disaster relief teams in Australia and around the world in the wake of natural disasters.

Located in every state and territory nationally, DRA operates 10 Disaster Relief Teams (DRT) across the country. Each DRT has the capability to conduct disaster relief and community support operations through its localised volunteers.

DRA is also a family affair, offering opportunities for family members to deploy together, to improve family relationships and connections, as experienced by a father and son team outlined as part of the interim report:

“Having a long family history of Military service, the ethic of contributing to your community, and your country was integral to my childhood.

I joined the Navy with my older brother in 1970, in the footsteps of my Dad, who was a career soldier as was his father, and grandfather.

My wife and I have three boys of our own, with my oldest son, having just put his hand up to join DRA. Such a proud moment, one of many as he has carried forward the commitment to serve others in many ways throughout his life.

We have always been committed to voluntary work in one way or another over the years, and DRA has been an ideal fit for our family values, rendering the opportunity to give back to the community.

My eldest son and I are committed to serving wherever and whenever we are needed. To be able to share this experience together is an opportunity to good to be missed.

The DRA structure and most all, the people involved are key as to why I want to be involved and bring my family into the tribe, to that end I have even roped in my older brother, who I joined the Navy all those years ago, who is now a First Responder in regional Victoria.”

To find out more about becoming a volunteer with DRA, or to connect with the membership team, visit DRA’s website.

Article kindly provided by Disaster Relief Australia.

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