How can we collectively recover from a health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic without increasing inequalities? How can we better prepare for future disasters? Well, community resilience might just be part of the answer.
The pandemic has had an impact on all areas of individual, community and societal life, despite the easing of health measures in recent weeks. Long-term effects on mental health are expected, unequally affecting some more than others. Indeed, some groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, especially women, marginalized or homeless people, racialized or immigrant people, as well as children and teenagers.
However, across the country (and around the world!), citizen initiatives, virtual or otherwise, have emerged to offer support and solidarity. At the beginning of the crisis, rainbows and the hashtag #çavabienaller (#everythingwillbeallright) started popping up on windows and doors, as a symbol of resilience - the rainbow after the storm. People created phone lines and Facebook groups to help fellow neighbours and local businesses most hardly hit by the pandemic. There's no doubt that the hardships faced pushed us to find solutions, build stronger ties within our communities, and to face health inequalities, together.
Community resilience can be defined as "the ability of community members to adapt to an environment characterized by change, uncertainty, unpredictability and surprise by mobilizing community resources ."Magis (2010)
Community resilience therefore goes beyond adaptation. It also represents the potential for a community to take advantage of disruptions to reinvent itself and develop long-term sustainable practices. Among the collective factors contributing to community resilience, climate change literature emphasizes the importance of:
Last March, the pan-Canadian COHESION study sent questionnaires to participants to understand how these collective factors were related to their mental health and well-being. Initial analyses show a social gradient in community resilience factors, these factors correlating with certain mental health indicators, such as levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
Sense of neighbourhood belonging, a contributing factor to community resilience, is one's perception of being integrated into their community [2, 3]. Members of a resilient community have a strong sense of belonging, which increases their active engagement in their community and contributes to positive mental health.
The COHESION study is interested in three mental health indicators: loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
The figures below shows that participants who reported a Very Strong or Somewhat Strong sense of belonging had lower scores for loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Furthermore, participants with a low sense of belonging and low income had higher scores on loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
These links between neighbourhood belonging and mental health indicators highlight the role that our living environments can play in our ability to cope with adversity. It is important to better understand what features of our neighbourhoods contribute to a sense of belonging, community resilience, and improved mental health and well-being. During the most restrictive periods of the pandemic, local resources such as parks or neighbourhood businesses may have played a critical role, providing opportunities to get active and get some fresh air, or to maintain some social connections. By creating neighbourhoods that promote interactions, with good access to services and infrastructure for all, community resilience is strengthened, and the mental health and well-being of populations promoted. Investing in, transforming and mobilizing our neighbourhoods is key to help respond to major challenges, from a sanitary crisis, to climate adaptation and democratic participation.