The social context of our lives, and the environment in which we live and interact has a significant impact on our mental health and wellbeing.
As we go through life, experiencing all the ups and downs that are inevitable, the presence of a supportive environment that allows us to maintain or regain our mental well-being is important. ‘Social capital’ consists of the informal and formal networks and interactions which make up our individual and community relationships. The experience of ‘community’ is as much about the pattern and nature of relationships that exist between people as it is about the physical space in which people interact.
The community we live in has the way of shaping our lives. We meet the same people every day, we go to work at the same place, or we attend the same school, and the individuals we come in contact on a daily basis can affect our mental condition. They can make it worse or charge it with positive energy. That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with people who will make you happy and stay ways from people who will make you anxious or nervous, even if that means to change your neighborhood because you will be surprised how your life can change in a second.
Areas with low social capital are less likely to be able to support individuals in distress, which can have a further negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing. The value of a ‘sense of belonging’ for good mental health has long been recognized: Durkheim (1897) hypothesized that weak social controls and the disruption of local community organization were factors related to increased rates of suicide.
Population or public mental health approach ensures a focus on social and environmental determinants, such as social capital, perceptions of safety and crime levels, access to green spaces, the built environment, and housing as well as on individually based approaches. This dual approach ensures that there is the maximum benefit for everyone, as well as people experiencing or at risk of mental health problems.
Tackling crime and the fear of crime is an important way to help people feel safer in their communities. ‘Fear of crime’ can adversely affect people’s quality of life, and may cause or increase isolation and social exclusion as a result of not wanting to leave the house or talk to other people.
Our homes, our workspaces and our local surroundings – be they green spaces or built environments – all have the potential to affect our mental health and wellbeing. As a result, a number of recent projects aimed at promoting the use of local green spaces as a way to help improve mental health and wellbeing have been developed, such as Mind’s Ecotherapy campaign and Coed Lleol which aims to help more people enjoy and care for woodlands. Projects like these encourage us to use the readily available countryside as a way of improving our mental health.
Mental Health Promotion Network works closely with the Physical Activity & Nutrition Network and other partner organizations to promote the use of green spaces to improve mental health and wellbeing.