Positive Impacts of Civic Engagement on Mental Health

A woman who has just voted places a 'I Voted!' sticker on her shirt.

Any activity that promotes positive change in a community is considered civic engagement. Voting, volunteering, and sharing ideas with our representatives help create a community that reflects the diversity of its residents. When all voices are heard, leaders can focus on making change where it is needed most. But civic engagement can also benefit your mental health.

An Easy Way to Build Connections

One way to combat what U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy calls the “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” is for people to strengthen their social and cultural connections. By supporting local candidates, working at the neighborhood polling place, and volunteering with local organizations, you can connect with others who share your interests and values.

In Philadelphia, the Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service offers an online calendar of in-person and virtual community service opportunities throughout the city. You can sort the events by date, location, sponsoring organization, and more. For additional options, check out your neighborhood’s social media pages or websites like Volunteer Match.

Some popular ways to get involved in your neighborhood include:

Planting a community garden
Stocking shelves in a food pantry
Serving as a youth mentor
Fostering pets at a local shelter
Joining a town watch
Coaching a recreational sports team
Organizing a voter registration drive
Visiting older adults
Offering translation services if you speak another language

When You Help Your Community, You Help Yourself

People who participate in community activities have an increased sense of well-being and report higher levels of life satisfaction. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, volunteering improves mental health by increasing your feelings of:

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Belonging. Being part of a group can positively impact your self-esteem.
Support. Making meaningful connections with others can help you feel seen.
Purpose. Contributing to something bigger than yourself can give life new meaning.

Voting and volunteering can give people a real sense of agency over what is happening in their lives. Studies show that the positive psychological benefits of civic engagement include reducing stress, increasing empathy, and boosting resilience.

“Taking an active role in supporting our city through volunteering and civic engagement not only helps the city ― it helps the people doing the volunteering,” said Iris Lozada, Manager of Community Affairs for the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS). “Being part of important efforts to help others is fulfilling and gratifying. In the end, you’re not just helping others, you’re helping yourself and your mental health by knowing that you contributed to making other people’s lives a little bit better.”

For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.