As it’s Mental Health Awareness week this week, I thought I’d explore a bit about community, and how being part of one, or not, can affect our mental wellbeing. Are we really better as a tribe than we are as individuals?
I gave blood today, as I have done 27 times in the past, so not unusual except that I had to go to a new venue. I’d been told that there was free parking, so I followed the signs, approached the barrier, and entered the car park, only to discover that there were no free spaces, and already another 3 cars inside trying to turn round! As these people were also here to give blood, I had no trouble identifying them as part of my ‘tribe’, and we made a collective decision about what to do – call the Donor Centre, find another car park, and accept that we were going to be late. Instead of feeling stressed about my individual failure to keep my appointment, the shared experience buoyed me up, and when we all eventually met inside, we already had a bond, even though none of us had met before.
This sense of belonging, and of being part of a shared experience is often missing in people who are feeling anxious or depressed. Feeling excluded leads to a sense of not belonging and a spiral of decreasing interaction. Various studies have shown that increased social support correlates with reduced stress and loneliness, so when we regularly share experiences and find ourselves part of a community, for whatever reason, this increases our sense of wellbeing.
Science aside, who doesn’t feel better – stronger, more able – when they are part of something bigger? After I’d given up my armful of blood, I sat with others at the table and enjoyed a cuppa and a biscuit. Conspiratorially, we laughed and said that we only came here for the biscuits. But we all know thats not true. We do it to be part of our community, to share an experience, and to feel proud. Or at least I do.
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