Humans are communal creatures, and our ability to thrive depends on the community that holds us. Good mental health is founded in appreciating that we’re part of a larger whole that we can take pride in. A strong community nurtures us though the good times and the bad, creating spaces where we can share positive experiences and get emotional support when things aren’t going so well. Researchers found that people in neighbourhoods with a stronger sense of community experienced fewer mental health problems. It didn’t matter how deprived or affluent a neighbourhood was – it’s the community that counted.

Sadly, strong communities are uncommon: almost a fifth of us say we always or often feel lonely. Loneliness is worse for your health than obesity,
and lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia and depression. Researcher Frances Moore Lappé wrote that community ‘isn’t a luxury, a nice thing; community is essential to our wellbeing’.

So how can you help create a better community locally?

Taking positive action to help other people supports your own mental wellbeing. Research by the New Economics Foundation found that even simple acts of kindness – a friendly smile or a helping hand – can make a difference. Start small and maybe you’ll be encouraged to do more, like volunteering for a local community project.

Making a contribution to your community feels good as it helps create a sense of belonging and strengthens self-esteem.

According to psychologist Jamil Zaki, kindness is contagious, so your single good deed can send ripples through your community a like a pebble thrown into a pond. We sometimes think of ourselves as self-contained islands who need to focus only on our own needs. The reality is very different: we are part of a social ecosystem and your wellbeing is inextricably tied in with that of everyone else in your community. By sharing, helping people and building richer social connections we can improve our own wellbeing and nurture the community of which we are a part.


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