Community Empowerment

By Dr. Emma Nagy

We know that living in a supportive community environment can have a HUGE impact on mental health. Communities that are more likely to foster positive mental health contain characteristics such as neighbours that are trustworthy, residents who are friendly and look out for one another, feelings of safety and cohesion, and a range of practical services and enjoyable activities.

One of our main goals at Peace in Minds is to support communities in their goals to have positive mental health. An important part of the process for Peace In Minds is working closely with communities and the individuals who live in them. Working with community members means that we can listen to their needs, learn about their strengths, offer skills and tools that are meaningful, and teach community leaders (such as teachers and healthcare professionals) to enhance their own communities’ mental health on a long-term basis. This is why one of our values is “Community: support and build our communities to be stronger, healthier and safer”.

We are all part of some type of community and whether we are conscious of it or not, each of us really do impact how our communities feel and function. This means we can each play a role in empowering our communities. Our role can be big or small, and might fluctuate over time, but our part is an important one. If you’re wondering how you could help make your community a happier, mentally healthier place to live, here are just a few things that you might consider doing (or enhancing if you’re already doing them!):

Share your gifts
Do you have a hobby or skill that you’re good at that is a great de-stressor? Share it with others! Whether it’s practicing yoga, playing an instrument, dancing, playing a sport, creating art, gardening, or adventuring outdoors, there are countless skills and activities that can help boost mental health. You could start a class or group in your neighbourhood, or share your gifts more informally with friends.

There are so many incredible organizations out there looking for help. Explore what’s in your community and pick something you care about. A few hours a week is all you need to give for most places. As an added bonus, you may not only boost the mental health of community members who are connected to these local organizations, you could also boost your own mental health by volunteering too!

Be a good friend
You don’t need to branch outside of your existing social networks to make a big impact in your community. You could potentially be making the biggest difference by nurturing the relationships you already have. Strong bonds and healthy relationships with friends and family are hugely protective against poor mental health. You are likely helping more than you realize by being a good friend to those around you. Take some time to reflect and think about if there are any small changes you can make to strengthen these relationships even more.

Be inclusive
As well as nurturing your existing relationships, consider how you can connect with those who might be lonely. Social isolation can have a devastating impact on someone’s mental health. Make time to visit or call regularly if you have an older adult in your family who lives alone. Check in on the neighbour who doesn’t have friends or family living close by. Invite a classmate or co-worker who is new, or who usually sits alone, to join you for lunch. Support friends or family members who seem withdrawn or are going through a hard time. A listening ear can make tough moments easier.

Be friendly
How you interact with those around you (including people you don’t know) can foster a positive vibe in your neighbourhood. The small gestures, like helping out a co-worker, offering to shovel a neighbours’ driveway on a Canadian winter’s day, smiling at the person who works at the corner store, and saying please and thank you to the staff at local establishments add up. These are the little things that make a community a happier place to live in, and the happy effects can be contagious. 

Seek out support when you need it too
If you’re currently in a place where it would be anxiety-provoking or detrimental to your mental health to try the suggestions above, that’s okay too. If you can, seek companionship or support from others in your community, and on the days where it would help, join in on some stress-relieving activities that might be available nearby.

Some of these suggestions may seem obvious when reading them, but there is value in taking a step back to reflect on how we act and how we spend our time and energy. Taking this step back from time to time can be a good reminder that our connection to others is a powerful tool that can be used to better ourselves and our communities. Mother Teresa said it best when she spoke of our individual roles, the value of diversity in communities and the power of working together:

 “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together, we can do great things.” – Mother Teresa