Having a support system for your mental health is vital. In the United States, it is estimated that one in five adults has a mental illness. Unfortunately, multiple reports show that a lack of access to quality mental health care is the root cause of the current mental health care crisis in America.


So where else can you find support if you are one of those struggling to find access to the care you need? The answer lies in community-based support systems. 


Why Community Support is Critical for Mental Health


People are naturally social beings, meaning they are not meant to exist in isolation. Unfortunately, individuals with mental health concerns often experience increased loneliness and isolation, which can exacerbate the issue. The recent pandemic also worsened this problem by forcing people into isolating scenarios, which highlighted an already long-standing unaddressed issue, which is a lack of access to mental health care. 


While the government is attempting to combat this issue with federal funding, the current lack of access to evidence-based mental health care still poses a serious threat. Furthermore, while we are in desperate need of more mental health professionals, clinical evidence from the World Health Organization shows that in some cases, people receiving support through community-based services have better mental health outcomes and better quality of life. 


This is likely because community-based care is more accessible, community programs are better at incorporating human rights protections, and community services provide more opportunities for reorganizing the service delivery model to support mental health. 


There is also the simple fact that community programs and organizations provide more ways for people to connect socially, which addresses one of the primary issues with mental health — loneliness and isolation. 


Another reason why community-based care is so vital is the fact that mental health issues may disproportionately affect marginalized groups, such as queer communities. These communities not only struggle with lack of access to care, but specifically lack of access to care where they are not discriminated against. Community organizations, however, tend to offer better engagement and support for marginalized communities and their diverse needs. 


Ways Community-Based Organizations Can Provide Mental Health Support


If you are seeking to build or create better mental health support systems, community services can offer a wide range of resources and opportunities. Below are a few examples of some of the many ways communities can provide mental health support. 

1. Libraries

Libraries have long been used not simply for access to books, but as community support centers. Not only do libraries often work to educate their staff and the public on ways to support people struggling with mental health, but they can also provide access to other mental health resources. 


The best part about libraries is that they also act as safe places and gathering centers for those who need to find refuge, especially those who typically face higher rates of mental health challenges, such as QTBIPOC individuals


2. Counseling Centers and Peer Support Groups


Local communities often provide counseling centers that make mental health services more accessible and more affordable. Instead of having to visit a hospital or a doctor’s office, individuals can get the care they need right in the comfort of their own community. 


Counseling centers or other community centers also often provide spaces where people can gather for peer support. Peer support groups are great because they can show people who are struggling that they are not alone and it can help them heal faster by providing them with the connection they need to address their symptoms of loneliness. 


4. Faith-Based and Educational Organizations


Churches or other religious congregations are also excellent community resources for mental health support. These are spaces that can also provide a place of refuge for those who are feeling unseen or unheard. They can also provide access to treatment or preventative services without fear of discrimination. 


Schools are also perfect places for raising mental health awareness as they are already institutions designed for learning. They can host events to raise awareness or even offer workshops or seminars to educate students and the community. Many educational organizations also offer their own on-site mental health services, which can be more accessible than going to the doctor or finding a therapist. 


5. Mission-Based Groups


Community organizations are often known for partnering with other outside organizations to help provide better access or resources to those in the community. For example, numerous mission-based mental health organizations work with local communities, such as Mental Health America (MHA), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the Trevor Project.  


Reducing Stigma Normalizing Mental Health Discussions


One of the biggest challenges of mental health awareness is the stigma surrounding mental health disorders. As such, we need to work toward breaking down those stigmas by working toward normalizing mental health discussions in settings where mental health can be overlooked, such as at work or with our primary care providers. 


Normalizing mental health in the workplace is important because workplaces are often significant sources of stress that can cause or exacerbate existing mental health issues. The key is to work toward more open communication in the workplace about mental health and fight for more flexible arrangements that enable workers to address their mental health needs more easily. 


Although primary care offices should be safe spaces, many people feel embarrassed about bringing up mental health with their doctor. However, the only way to improve mental health in primary care settings is for people to normalize talking about their mental health with their doctors. 


Having more open discussions with your primary care doctor can help with the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. It can also potentially help with other physical conditions that are potentially exacerbated by a patient’s existing mental health issues. 


The Power of Community Support in Mental Health 


While there is a dire need for more advanced mental health care in institutional settings, there is no denying the power of community-based mental health initiatives. Communities do more than simply bring people together, they operate as centers for change and support that can provide those in the community with more empathetic and effective care that can improve outcomes and increase quality of life.  

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