Being part of the community is good for mental wellbeing, study finds

12 March 2014

People with a strong sense of neighbourhood belonging have better mental wellbeing, according to new research based on the 1946, 1958 and Hertfordshire cohort studies.

Researchers from the Institute of Education, the University of Southampton, the University of Edinburgh and University College London analysed data from more than 10,000 men and women aged between 50 and 76. They focussed on how individuals’ overall wellbeing, including levels of independence and self-acceptance, linked with their feelings of neighbourhood belonging or ‘cohesion’.

The researchers found that people who felt that they were part of their neighbourhood had higher wellbeing, even after other factors such as socio-economic position, employment, health and personality traits were taken into account.

Significantly, the link between neighbourhood belonging and wellbeing was stronger for adults in the 1946 and Hertfordshire cohorts, who had average ages of 64 and 73 years respectively, compared to younger adults in the 1958 cohort study, with an average age of 51.

The researchers also looked at information from biographical interviews with 230 adults within the three cohort studies who were asked to talk about where they lived and their involvement in their local community.

Many people who felt part of their neighbourhood talked about their involvement with locally organised groups and associations, indicating the importance of social participation in creating a sense of belonging. Interpersonal ties also appeared to play a role, with several individuals explaining that they had close family or friends living nearby.

Older participants were the most likely to mention that they were part of a local group, which could explain the stronger association between neighbourhood cohesion and wellbeing among this age group. In contrast, individuals in the youngest cohort spoke more about mobility outside of their neighbourhood, such as their commute to work or plans for moving house.

Negative feelings about neighbourhoods were often linked to the physical structure of the environment, such as busy roads or feelings of isolation in rural villages.

The researchers highlight the value of using qualitative resources alongside quantitative data for capturing the varied and multi-dimensional nature of complex constructs such as neighbourhood belonging.

‘Neighbourhood cohesion and mental wellbeing among older adults: A mixed methods approach’, by Jane Elliott, Catharine R. Gale, Samantha Parsons and Diana Kuh, was published in the Social Science & Medicine journal in March 2014.

The research formed part of the HALCyon programme lead by Professor Di Kuh and funded under the New Dynamics of Ageing initiative.

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