Community can be described in physical and emotional terms. Physically, a community can be a shared space or a group of people that share some common denominator. Emotionally, community is described as a sense of fellowship or similarity with others. Community also describes the relationship one has with their environment, both the people and places that compose it. Ultimately, there is an overarching theme of togetherness that transcends the different definitions of the word.
How to Find Your Community
We have all experienced community in one form or another. Maybe you played sports in high school, lived in the Northeast region of your city, or became a regular at a local coffee shop. There are several different approaches you can take when building a community or fostering your sense of community. You can:
- Explore your interests. Becoming involved with these kinds of activities will introduce you to people who enjoy what you enjoy, making it even easier to connect with them. Some examples of these activities could be joining a book club, recreational sports team, or enrolling in pottery classes or dance lessons.
- Follow your values. How do you think the world could be better? What role can you play in making those improvements? Determining your values and finding activities that align with them is a great way for you to find a community and give back to it. This could look like donating to your local Women’s Shelter or volunteering at an elementary school to read with students. It could also mean working for a charity or nonprofit that is raising awareness for a cause.
- Strengthen your beliefs. People often hold onto their beliefs with great conviction. Seeking activities and groups of people that demonstrate similar beliefs as you can motivate you to take further action in pursuit of a common goal or inspire you to develop personal goals as well. Some examples of belief-based activities could be joining a church or political organization.
You want to engage in, or with, activities and people that mean something to you. It only makes sense that you would enjoy and engage more with things you are passionate about. By finding activities and people that align with what is meaningful to you, you will likely find that a sense of community comes easily.
The overarching theme of togetherness that characterizes community is precisely what makes it so influential on individuals’ mental health. The relationships, connections, and interactions enabled by togetherness is how people of a community are able to benefit from one another and from the group as a whole. Significant research has been done to demonstrate one key point: Humans are social beings. We are not meant to be alone in this world, and learning from one another is how the world continues to improve.
The importance of quality relationships, connections, and interactions on a person’s mental well-being cannot be understated. In the field of child psychology, a 2015 study found the number one presenting problem among children attending child and adolescent mental health services to be family relationship problems. Several studies have also found that children and adolescents are significantly more likely to have higher levels of wellbeing if they demonstrate good personal and social relationships. In the field of couple psychology, researchers have found that being in a happy marriage or stable relationship is associated with lower stress and depression rates. However, single people demonstrated better mental wellbeing than people in an unhappy relationship, which again, emphasizes the importance of quality relationships and connections. Studies from Ireland and the US found that negative social interactions and relationships, especially with partners, increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Finally, in relation to community as a whole, research has found that neighborhoods with higher levels of social cohesion experience lower rates of mental health problems than neighborhoods with lower social cohesion, independent of how rich or poor the neighborhood is.
”As a social species, we all need community. For those who already have it, it’s a critical part of maintaining mental health. For those who don’t, seeking out community- whether it’s through an online community, neighbors, old friends, work colleagues, or even getting a therapist, it can dramatically improve someone’s quality of life.
Dr. Kirsten ThompsonFounder, CEO & Psychiatrist, Remedy
Ways that a Community Impacts Mental Health
- Belonging. Just like food and water, the sense of acceptance and identity with a group is considered to be a human need. A sense of belonging, for most people, is integral to the value they place on life. More than just being a member of a group, a sense of belonging is fulfilled when you are able to put your most authentic self on display and be met with the positive responses that signify you are among people that enjoy your nature. Belonging to a community can benefit your mental health because it provides a space that encourages you to be yourself and one that connects you with those who are similar to you.
- Security. Similar to belonging, a sense of security is considered one of the most important human needs. A sense of security refers to a feeling of confidence and safety. The most profound aspect about a sense of security is that the confidence and safety felt is not reserved for just one environment or community. A sense of security can help people feel more confident when encountering new experiences and interacting with new people. A community gives you the opportunity to trust and depend on people, and the more comfortable you feel doing that, the more likely you are to display that in other settings.
- Support. Several studies have shown that having a support system has numerous benefits on a person’s overall well-being. Strong support systems have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression and improve coping mechanisms. People with strong support systems have also demonstrated stronger immune systems and lower rates of early death. Communities provide a cohort of individuals to rely on for support and who likely care about you and want to be an outlet for you. Knowing you have people who care about you to help you through difficult times can make coping much easier because you won’t ever feel entirely alone.
- Purpose. Especially when building a community through outlets based on values and beliefs, such as political organizations or churches, being a member of a community can help you feel a part of something larger than yourself. By extending the value you place on your life to the way you impact your environment, belonging to a community can help you develop a greater sense of purpose. Having a sense of purpose can influence your behavior, shape new goals, and give you a sense of direction for your life. It often benefits mental health because it can motivate you to deal with difficult times in a more productive manner or it may relieve some of your situational pressure since, however it works out, you maintain the reassuring presence of your purpose.
While all the above benefits of community in strengthening mental well-being are true, it may not be sufficient for keeping your mental health concerns under control. With the combined effects of the benefits listed above, another profound effect of community on mental health is that it often makes seeking mental health care easier and more approachable. A sense of belonging to a community can provide the reassurance that you will not be outcasted or made to feel incapacitated for seeking professional help. A sense of security can give you the confidence needed to try new experiences, like talking to a therapist, and the trust you’ve developed in people through your community may allow you to open up more in therapy. Having a support system of people who care about you and your well-being can provide reminders about the importance of your health and can provide the motivation needed to continue with mental health treatment even if it gets difficult. Finally, a sense of purpose can inspire you to think of your health and overall well-being as deeper than just yourself since you play an integral role in the lives of others.
In the same way that mental health heavily influences our quality of life, the quality of people we fill our lives with heavily influences our mental health. Being an engaged member of a community, or several, helps us give meaning to our everyday actions and experiences. It is motivating to be connected to more than just yourself, and for several, the inspiration drawn from being accountable to others can encourage us to be better. The combined presence of a sense of belonging, security, support, and purpose is ultimately the result of being with people who care about you. Communities are filled with people who care about one another, and who therefore, empower each other to care for themselves as well. Finding the right community for you might not come on the first try, but push on, because they are out there. Whether you have a community and are looking to expand, realized who you thought was your community is not healthy for you, or are just beginning to search for your people, know that there are so many others in the same predicament as you, so there is no need to feel alone at any stage of the process. Finally, keep in mind that just as finding a community will benefit your life, the members of your future community will significantly benefit from your presence in their lives.