Social psychology has been interested in understanding group behaviour during times of crises and emergencies. During the COVID-19 pandemic crisis governments and international organisations have been appealing for solidarity from all. Solidarity has been always called upon in times of crises, be it union worker strikes, natural calamity or war. According to APA dictionary of psychology,
“group solidarity is a sense of fellowship and community displayed by member of a collective who are united by shared purposes, responsibilities and interests.”
This article discusses the idea of solidarity and what it means for individual and community mental health.
Does solidarity have any mental health benefits?
A theory in social psychology called self-categorisation implies that the way we think about our identity is how we categorise ourselves in relation to others. According to John Turner, we identify at three levels of abstractions, ‘I’, ‘we’ or ‘we humans’ (although these three are not the only ones and we make innumerable categorisations day-to-day). Solidarity during a pandemic crisis requires us to identify with others in our community at the highest level of abstraction i.e., ‘we humans’. Our social and personal identities are intertwined with social solidarity. We take the norms and values of the collective and those norms become part of our identity for example, we may follow the stay at home order (norm) and value individual social responsibility towards the purpose of flattening the curve. Thereby, merging the collective’s (humans) purpose, responsibility and interests with our own and making that our identity.
Individual Mental Health
Therapy in a large sense works on similar lines, the goal is to help individuals become self-actualised, that includes understanding who they are and how they relate to others. The idea is to become a well-adjusted unique individual in a community. Social solidarity can help in achieving that goal. Sense of fellowship can be therapeutic, it gives you an identity, support and sense of purpose all of which can be helpful in improving mental health. Social and community support has always been sought in therapy to help individuals make better connections and develop better coping mechanism. Therefore, Solidarity is crucial in forming social relations and identity, both of which have a significant role in improving mental health.
Community Mental Health
Solidarity brings stability to human social life. It involves an emotional response along with an action towards individual or group that one may or may not have met. Continuing the example of COVID-19 crisis, the group is humanity on the whole (haven’t met everyone) and the action is staying at home to flatten the curve embedded in emotion of global well-being and overcoming this crisis. Communities thrive on this emotional connection and this sort of support, stability and shared responsibility makes a community mentally healthy.
During times of crisis and during times of peace solidarity plays a part in keeping the fabric of our communities together by providing stability not just to the collective but to the individual too and can play a crucial role in affecting the mental health of everyone involved.
Stay home, Stay safe!
Smith C., Sorrell K. (2014) On Social Solidarity. In: Jeffries V. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity. Palgrave Macmillan, New York
Turner, J. C. (2010). Social categorization and the self-concept: A social cognitive theory of group behavior.