Coming Together: Community
What’s the importance of connection? Specifically, our connection with other people? It can be so easy in our busy world of veiled connection (social media) and personal pursuits to forget to deeply connect with other human beings. It can be so easy to not notice that that disconnect is there. In this series, we look at how ‘coming together’ impacts our health at an individual and community level. This week, I’m talking all about community. What it means, what the hallmarks of community are and how/why it affects our health.
Community can be classified in a couple of ways. Commonly we refer to it as a group of people living in the same place, however with our modern world emerging as it is, geography seems to have less to do with a sense of community. A more appropriate definition, I believe, has to do with a group sharing some similar characteristic, belief and feeling a ‘fellowship’ with others based on those attitudes and beliefs. So this can be a group of friends, this can be a religion, a team, a profession etc, some of which will be explored in the upcoming weeks.
From a very basic, evolutionary perspective, community benefits survival. Since our species’ existence, we have been tribal-based. We have functioned on the basis of relying on others to some extent and thrived because of it. So, inherent in our genetic make-up is the need for community. That’s all well and good, but what are some evidence-based outcomes supporting this? I’m glad you asked.
In a 2012 study, researchers looked at the recovery-oriented outcomes of adults with serious mental health concerns in relation to their community participation. This included things like volunteering, parenting, religious/spiritual activities, peer support/friendship. They found there was a positive correlation between improvement of mental health status and engagement in community participation.
A cohort that is commonly the example of social isolation (at least in the West), are the geriatric population. Social connectedness and health outcomes were studied and in this particular 2009 article, “Social disconnectedness is associated with worse physical health, regardless of whether it prompts feelings of loneliness or a perceived lack of social support”.
It can be difficult to delineate correlations (associations) and causative factors, however take into consideration a 2005 paper citing that there is “strong and consistent evidence for a causal association” between depression, social isolation and heart disease. I am using social disconnectedness and lack of community interchangeably here, but there is a very direct link between lack of connection and poor mental and physical health outcomes.
This is a very simplistic look at community and health and am aware there are major differences even between cultures across the world. This is an article to wet your palate, so to speak, for the upcoming weeks. We encourage you to reflect (non-judgmentally, of course) on places in your life where you feel a sense of community. For some this comes easily, but in this busy world of ours, it can be easy to feel disconnected. So, if this doesn’t come easily to you, brainstorm some ways that you could connect with others or stay tuned for upcoming articles that will demonstrate some ideas!
Kaplan, K., Salzer, M. S., & Brusilovskiy, E. (2012). Community participation as a predictor of recovery-oriented outcomes among emerging and mature adults with mental illnesses. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 35(3), 219-229.
Isaacs, Harold Robert (1975). Idols of the Tribe: Group Identity and Political Change. Harvard University Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-674-44315-0.
Laverack, Glenn. “Improving Health Outcomes through Community Empowerment: A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition, vol. 24, no. 1, 2006, pp. 113–120. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23499274.
Cornwell, Erin York, and Linda J. Waite. "Social disconnectedness, perceived isolation, and health among older adults." Journal of health and social behavior 50.1 (2009): 31-48.
Eckersley, Richard. "Is modern Western culture a health hazard?." International journal of epidemiology 35.2 (2005): 252-258.
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