Research links civic engagement, resilience

Members of the public and members of Dunedin's Al Huda mosque embrace as hundreds of others...
Members of the public and members of Dunedin's Al Huda mosque embrace following the Christchurch terror attacks. Photo: ODT files
Giving flowers, making home-cooked meals and spending time helping those affected benefited not only the recipients of charity after the Christchurch attacks, but also the givers.

A University of Otago study has found a clear link between "civic engagement" and resilience.

Psychology postdoctoral fellow Dr Jill Hayhurst, the lead author of the study, said the research was the first to show the link.

"In times of challenge and tragedy it can be easy to consider our own wellbeing as unimportant or trivial, especially compared to those who directly suffered from the terror attack," Dr Hayhurst said.

"However, in order to effectively support other New Zealanders, make the appropriate changes to our communities, policy, and government, and make Aotearoa safer for everyone, we need to be well and we need to be resilient.

"There's a growing body of evidence that shows civic engagement is not just good for the people we are helping, but also for our own wellbeing."

Dr Hayhurst said to judge wellbeing she used scales which were widely used overseas, for instance, asking people whether they felt they were contributing, and whether the world made sense to them, and whether they felt they could handle challenges as they arose.

Interestingly past, as well as recent, acts of engagement made a difference to how the person felt, Dr Hayhurst said.

Researchers surveyed 530 young people, ranging in age from 16 to 32, about civic engagement, wellbeing and resilience.

The results, published in the New Zealand Journal of Psychology, showed the basic act of helping a neighbour could buffer people from adversity and promote wellbeing.

"As people face more and more challenges, in terms of environmental factors like poverty and climate change, as well as mental health issues, the potential for simple programmes like community service to improve resilience is really exciting," Dr Hayhurst said.

She thought further research on the subject was required, specifically using a longitudinal design exploring people's levels of civic engagement and wellbeing in response to terror attacks.

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