We often hear the terms inclusion and exclusion being used in conversation around us, especially in recent times, social inclusion has become a key topic for deliberation in all aspects of life. It is not some distant political concept, but it has become something we are trying to execute in our everyday lives such as enabling inclusion in classrooms and the workplace, fighting exclusion in terms of access to basic resources, networks, communities, etc. It is deeply connected to the pursuit of social justice and social solidarity! In this article, we’re going to explore the connection between social inclusion and mental health. To get started we’ve got to first look at what social exclusion can look like.
What is social exclusion? Does it affect mental health?
Social exclusion takes place when people are unable to fully participate in all aspects of economic, social, and cultural life. This is tied to various forms of disadvantage as well, as disadvantage is what hinders people from becoming full participants in social life. These disadvantages can be experiencing poverty, destitution, hardship, and so on. Research has found that social disadvantages actually hinder people from fully participating to their complete potential in society leading to them experiencing social exclusion and that this is directly linked to the occurrence of mental health problems amongst people.
The connection between social exclusion and mental health problems can actually be seen as a vicious cycle as social disadvantages can produce mental health problems which in turn can lead to further exclusion, loss of a sense of belonging and an inability to participate in society which is necessary to create that belongingness in the first place.
Including people by creating avenues to facilitate inclusion in society, giving people a sense of meaningfully contributing to society can actually work wonders for mental health!
How does social inclusion make way for mental wellness?
Research shows that for people who suffer from poor mental health, actively finding meaningful connection in the community through activities, sharing of interests, or even simply occupying space together can go a long way to boost mental health and improve feelings of belonging and being included. Especially since the pandemic, it has become hard to participate in activities that fuel community feelings and this has really proven detrimental to the mental health of many in recent times. Coming up with creative ways of facilitating social contact within small groups and communities can bring social inclusion to life at the micro-level and act as a mental health boost for all!
The importance of social inclusion and the harmful effects of social exclusion on mental health also really brings to the fore the importance of being kind, empathetic, and inclusive as individuals as we go about our lives. We are rarely aware of the types of disadvantages and the experiences of exclusion people around us are confronted by. These experiences remain private and may even be invisible in passing. Therefore, the objective should always be to make paths of social inclusion available to everyone regardless of how we perceive them at the first glance.
A final takeaway from this should also be that we must ensure that we participate actively in the social world as well. In the times of Covid-19, it has become all too easy to lead an individualistic and solitary existence, maybe sometimes even necessarily alone because of quarantine requirements, etc. Yet, social inclusion and the feeling of belongingness it creates is an essential experience and we must treat it so and allow ourselves to regularly contribute to society and participate in social activities that can build cohesion and belongingness. Making sure you yourself are included in feeling like you’re part of a community is an act of self-care and a step to achieving mental wellness.