Community and wellbeing

Director of Wellbeing, Strategy & Collaboration, Michael Fullerton writes about how being part of our community is good for our wellbeing

We all strive and wish for the best possible mental health for ourselves and the people we love.

Given that our Wheel of Engagement theme this month is ‘Being part of a community’ I wanted to focus my thoughts on how that links with mental wellness. As it’s also Learning Disability Awareness Week, we can impress upon those in our communities how important it is to belong whoever you are and whatever the day.

I would start by urging you to watch Sebastian Foreman’s (Campaign 4 Change) vlog on Being part of the Community. It inspires and provokes much thought about what communities mean, and the benefits of these for us all. Sebastian begins with a definition of community. He breaks this down to Common, having shared interests and reasons to be and feel connected to others. Unity, we are united in our interdependence on each other.

Feeling safe and valued

Community, I would say, is more than physically and virtually being together. It is also a feeling, with the power to make us feel safe, valued, useful, loved. Detrimentally, community can bring social anxiety, inequality, discrimination and at its worst criminality. However, if we dwell on the negatives we won’t maximise the benefits; we simply need to able to consider how we pre-empt, spot and protect against risk of harm. Many people we support will need a lot of assistance in that regard.

Samir El-Ziftawy, Campaign 4 Change, presented at a recent LDE national conference on ‘Removing the cloak of Invisibility’. He pressed others to ensure people with profound and multiple learning disabilities are more visible and involved in society. It is critical for wellbeing that all of us, without exception are and feel part of our various communities.

All people are social creatures, even if some social interactions are difficult. We all thrive through connectedness, a sense of belonging. We give and gain support, friendship, togetherness, shared interests, love.

Within any community we all have something to offer, and we all offer differing skills, ideas and experiences. If truly inclusive, this is powerful.

Participating and belonging

Seriously impactful on mental wellbeing is a sense of isolation, of loneliness, not belonging, not actively included and participating. Think of times you have felt like an ‘outsider’, when no one asked for your opinion or contribution. Being sidelined or ignored can be devastating – please give thought to that in relation to people we support and then listen to Sebastian’s video again. It’s not a video to watch only once!

So, let’s all ensure we are active members of communities, whatever works for us individually and there are communities for all. The discovery of what works best for people is all part of the journey and joy.

With the Wheel of Engagement training we discuss the concept of Community Mapping. For people we support, we are mapping opportunities in their spheres of interest and locality. We are removing the cloak of invisibility for all who are not actively part of communities. For ourselves, we are using our communities to feel wellness, valued, loved and to love.