BELONGING

Why community is key to good mental health

By

Caroline Cox

– VOL. 3

It’s safe to say that the 2020 pandemic uprooted people’s lives all over the world. Now that things have slowly begun returning to normal (or a new kind of normal), people are starting to reflect on how the past year and a half has affected their lives: emotionally, mentally, and more.

Last year, as millions of people halted travel in lieu of staying safe at home, we also spent more time in our communities than ever before. As it turns out, this connection among community members can play a key role in mental health — something that many of us are working to rebuild after several months of worry, anxiety, and fear. The world may be opening back up, but the collective unease that pandemic brought about, for many, hasn’t been easy to shake.

Image of community and mental health

Neighbors in Kansas City gathered together for Summer on Armour, a celebration of their Midtown Neighborhood.

Luckily, there is comfort in communities. A 2021 study funded by Nottingham Trent University explained that “the role of communities in providing social and psychological resources to residents is well-established in social psychology.” Basically, feeling and identifying as part of a community fosters social relationships that fuel feelings of trust. 

Not only that, but the study cites a 2019 research article that found “community groups are known to be a particularly important source of identity and belonging, valuable for the generation and sharing of support and for residents’ health and well-being.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness organization agrees, saying that a sense of community provides elements that are critical to mental health, the most beneficial ones being belonging, support, and purpose. In Venn communities, for example, where people have resources and tools to help them connect both on- and offline with their neighbors, these connections have proven invaluable. Venn Neighbors reported a steady decline in feelings of disconnection compared to their peers, even during an incredibly tough year (Source: Venn 2021 Impact Report).

Rallying around a cause, particularly one directly connected to the place you call home, can bring out the best in people and help inspire greater empathy that, in turn, can become contagious.

Amid the tragedies that 2020 brought, the year was also filled with seemingly small acts of kindness and community that resulted in huge impacts. Think: the thousands of people who decorated their windows with messages of hope, and the nightly applause for healthcare workers in neighborhoods around the world during shift changes.

These gestures served as reminders that, even if we’re alone in our houses, we’re still among those in our neighborhood and community. This is also apparent in community-led mutual aid initiatives that have cropped up over the years in areas both rural and metro, such as Little Free Libraries, neighborhood farmers markets, and community fridges that are filled via donations and maintained by volunteers.

Image of mental health and community

Venn Neighbors in Bushwick gather for their popular monthly “Dig In” dinners.

In Venn Neighborhoods, community members self-organized to do more than 50 “give back” events, supporting everything from children’s education to the environment. Rallying around a cause, particularly one directly connected to the place you call home, can bring out the best in people and help inspire greater empathy that, in turn, can become contagious.

While 2020 was isolating for many, it was also an opportunity to take a closer look at our immediate surroundings. The data makes it clear that feeling connected to one’s community can boost mental health — after all, who doesn’t enjoy feeling like they’re part of something greater than themselves?

Of course, many mental health struggles require the support of a professional, but immersing yourself in your community can bring about a new layer of gratitude that many of us may not have noticed before.