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How to Improve Your Mental Health Through Community

The benefits of community involvement, plus tips and ideas for cultivating it.

Key points

  • Community involvement and a strong social network positively impact mental health with far-reaching benefits.
  • Benefits of community include hope, opportunity, and resources, plus friendship and a sense of fulfillment.
  • To help you decide how to get involved, consider your interests and passions, and consult with trusted others.

By Kimberly Nelson, MA, with Becky Shipkosky

Have you ever felt alone in the world? Isolated? If you have, can you think back to the state of your mental health at that time? Now, try to think of a time when you had a strong support network—maybe a job with the very best co-workers, your crew of friends in high school or college, or an especially cohesive group of roommates. Research indicates that these times in our lives are likely to be characterized by relatively good mental health (Park et al., 2023).

Why is a strong sense of community correlated with better mental health? For some—the more extroverted among us—this may seem perfectly natural. But introverts might find this counterintuitive. In fact, being in community offers benefits beyond the basic extrovert-recharge effect, including:

  • Social support: Someone to talk to when the going gets tough.
  • Purpose: Something bigger than yourself that inspires you to get out of bed and “do the day.”
  • Hope: Others who believe in you and help you believe in yourself.
  • Inspiration: Seeing people who look like you do great things and being reminded that you can do great things too.
  • Accountability: “We’re counting on you, and we miss you when you’re not here.”
  • Appreciation: Being seen for your strengths and having your best qualities reflected back to you.
  • Empowerment: Community can give you a voice in a way that would be hard to accomplish alone.
  • Opportunity: Your community network is the best source for job opportunities and so much more.
  • Cultural connection: Whether it’s those with your same diagnosis, race, orientation, language, socio-economic background, or all of the above, being with your village can be so affirming.
  • Resources: Who steps in to help when we’re struggling? Community does!

What Is Mental Health Recovery?

The recovery model is a newer paradigm in mental health care that emphasizes a person’s strengths, personal wisdom, and autonomy. It seeks to support individuals in living fulfilling lives with all the parts of themselves fully integrated, including their lived experience of mental illness. To learn more, see our post that fully defines the mental health recovery model.

Community + Mental Health Recovery

Within the recovery model, community is one of the four dimensions that underpin a fulfilling life (SAMHSA, 2024). Our Chief Program Officer, Dr. Lisa Schactman, emphasizes the role of community in the self-integration process: “Part of the recovery experience is reconnection. Some of the reconnection is to yourself…and some of the connection is to our loved ones and people in our community.”

At the end of the day, for better or worse, so much of who we are is in context of community. Like nearly everything else in our lives, “a recovery process is something that’s done in relationship, in community,” Schactman points out.

How to Cultivate Community That Fosters Recovery

Seeking out community may be new to some people. In our busy lives, we may only engage with the people and places we must. Stop by the coffee shop in the morning, say hello and goodbye to the barista. Go to work and talk shop with coworkers. Not all community provides the benefits we’ve talked about. Work may not be a bountiful hub of deep connection, after all. So, how do you even begin to intentionally build community for yourself?

  1. Start with the knowledge that you are enough. You don’t have to bring anything to the table other than yourself and what you naturally do well or love to do. This centeredness will help you quickly identify what is a good fit and what isn’t.
  2. Think about what captures your interest, passion, or curiosity. If no current interests or passions come to mind, think back to what you were most interested in as a child. This exercise may not lead you to just the right thing immediately, but it will absolutely move you in the right direction.
  3. Ask loved ones or care providers, like a therapist, to suggest ideas based on their understanding of you. This is great because it can provide perspectives you hadn’t thought of.

Where to Find Community

What types of spaces, events, and activities can we intentionally seek out to create a healthful and supportive environment that nurtures our mental health? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Volunteer work: Volunteer for efforts you care about. Here are a few ideas: community garden, literacy or tutoring program for adults or children, peer support, animal shelter, food bank, senior center, crisis hotline.
  • Workshops or classes: Look for workshops or classes that focus on personal development, mindfulness, or skill building. This could be anything from yoga to carpentry to non-violent communication.
  • Support group: Find local or online support groups that resonate with you. Actively participate in meetings and discussions.
  • Advocacy: Get involved in advocacy for issues you care about.
  • Hobby group: Join or create a group based on a shared hobby or interest, such as a book club, gaming squad, or exercise group.
  • Community events: Attend local events, fairs, and festivals.
  • Online community: Use social media platforms or apps designed to connect people who have common interests or are seeking support.
  • Faith-based: If you’re spiritual, join faith-based groups or activities. You can even begin by simply showing up for regular prayer or worship, which will undoubtedly open up opportunities for other events and programs.
  • Exercise group: Join a local running club or yoga class, start going to the skate park or roller rink, or join a box gym.

You don’t have to choose just one opportunity. It’s a great idea to try a few or several totally different things to see what feels best to you. And once you settle on something, try to establish a schedule with it. Your regular involvement is what will help you form and strengthen relationships. These relationships can lead to friendships that are based on common interests, and the more you you are, the higher quality those relationships can be.


Park, E. Y., Oliver, T. R., Peppard, P. E., & Malecki, K. C. (2023). Sense of community and Mental Health: A cross-sectional analysis from a household survey in Wisconsin. Family Medicine and Community Health, 11(2).

Recovery and recovery support. SAMHSA. (2024, March 26).

Shipkosky, B., & Schactman, L. (2024, March 22). Recovery Model of Mental Health. personal.

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