I live in Los Angeles. Los Angeles, with all of its perfect weather, funky culture, and the best Mexican food outside of Mexico, has some downfalls. The first being something two friends of mine who grew up in Texas/Oklahoma noted: no one commits to anything. Us Angelenos are a flaky group!
Another pitfall: we don’t know our neighbors. Speaking from personal experience, my husband and I have lived in our home for over two years and haven’t even seen an inkling of a neighborhood get-together, let alone partaken. In all of the places in the LA area I have lived, I have made good friends with two neighbors. And they’re the TX/OK couple referenced in the first paragraph…who have since moved back to Texas.
Then, we welcomed 2020. We didn’t even have the opportunity to flake out on plans. We were stuck at home, trying to recreate some sense of human connection via our screens. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t very effective. Virtual happy hours and online game nights dwindled as quickly as they became popular, leaving many of us sitting with our despair. I can’t be sure, but I believe the lack of close-knit community here may be a reason that California’s mental illness trended higher than the national average during the pandemic, per the CDC:
What Does Community Mean?
The go-to is, of course, your geographical area, be it your neighborhood or town. Naturally, there are church communities, school communities, work communities, clubs…so many options that it shouldn’t be this hard to find one. Psychologists in the 80s studied “community” extensively, aiming to define the term and elaborate on what makes us feel that sense of closeness.
Sense of Community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.McMillan, D. W., & Chavis, D. M. (1986)
In talking with my therapist and trying to work through my depression, we figured out together that one of the things I really felt like I was missing was a sense of community. A sense of belonging.
Perhaps I fell victim to mid-2000s television, thinking that communities like Stars Hollow, CT and Bluebell, AL were realistic representations of close-knit communities. I can’t seem to make my life look like Gilmore Girls, so I can’t be truly happy.
Usually, this would be the point in a blog post where I try to add little suggestions to improve your situation. I’ve got nothing. This is something I’m actively working through. Two weeks of research hasn’t resulted in a ton of advice that I think would lead to the outcome I’m looking for. I’ve found quite a few mentions that community and a sense of belonging and support are important to mental health, but the actual action items are things like the below:
- Join a book club
- Start a community garden
- Find a group of people who enjoy the same hobby as you
- Organize a block party
These are all things that sound lovely in theory, but in practice–and this could be my introversion showing–so much more challenging.
This article by the National Alliance on Mental Illness has been one that I’ve referenced multiple times when researching the importance of community to mental health. Stephanie Gilbert does a succinct job of explaining the importance of community and human connection, and calling out the three most important aspects of community: belonging, support, and purpose.
So, instead of signing off with a list of ways to improve your situation, I’m going to state my intention. These are my community-oriented goals this summer:
- Invite my neighbors to a BBQ celebrating the COVID-19 vaccine and the re-opening of society
- Visit two nearby churches
- Drop off some baked goods and/or a bottle of wine with our new neighbors moving in across the street
- Formally introduce ourselves to our next-door neighbors…of two years.
I’ll let you know how it goes!