The importance of community, sociability and diversity for wellbeing: report from the 2019 VTMH Forum

At the 2019 Victorian Transcultural Mental Health Forum, MMIC Director Rebecca Wickes presented a keynote to mental health practitioners, educators, and leaders, offering insight into how community networks foster social cohesion and support mental health and wellbeing.

Devon Bruce illustrating the central themes discussed at the 2019 VTMH Forum

On 1 August 2019, the VTMH Forum brought together mental health practitioners, educators, and leaders for a day of ideas, discussion and storytelling on the theme of ‘community’ and mental health practice. Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre Director Rebecca Wickes opened the forum with a keynote that encouraged attendees to think about the relationship between connection among diverse communities, and social problems that impact mental health and wellbeing.

For over a decade, Rebecca has concentrated on the diverse ways communities respond to crime in their communities. Residents can feel threatened, blaming crime on minorities and migrant groups, or respond by working together to resolve social problems. Community responses vary widely according to how connected residents are to each other. “When residents feel connected to each other, they work together to resolve local problems,'' Rebecca told audiences, “this leads to lower rates of crime, disorder and adolescent antisocial behaviour”.

It is clear from longitudinal data from Australian Community Capacity Study that the most significant threat to community well-being is not ethnic diversity, but the clustering of disadvantage. In fact, ethnic diversity and opportunities for neighbourly exchange can be central to developing diverse societies that are more socially cohesive and inclusive.

Rebecca’s work also highlighted how places like schools, community centres and even the corner shop influence individuals' perceptions of trust, the provision of social and material support and the willingness of people to work together to solve local problems. She stressed that trusted organisations must therefore work with the community to create spaces for shared experiences. Rebecca further argued that these trusted organisations have a significant role to play in pushing back against harmful narratives that create division and fear in local communities.

Live Scriber for the event, Devon Bunce, helped bring Rebecca's ideas to life with her vibrant illustrations. Devon added to this by illustrating the discussions and ideas throughout the day, creating a vibrant tapestry illustrating the importance of community to our mental health health and well being.