JOINING A PROTEST IS GOOD FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
By Anita Frankel, M.A., M.F.T.
"People should get more involved in campaigns, struggles and social movements - not only in the wider interest of social change, but also for their own personal good," says University of Sussex sociologist John Drury. In surveying the experiences of a group of British activists, he found that not only does participation in "collective action" have the potential to change the world, it is actually good for you.
The study involved in-depth interviews with nearly 40 people from a variety of backgrounds, in which over 160 collective action experiences were described. The range of events described by interviewees included traditional marches, fox-hunt sabotages, anti-capitalist street parties, environmental direct actions, industrial mass pickets - and even student occupations. "The main factors we found to contribute to a sense of empowerment were the realization of the collective identity: the sense of movement, potential, unity and mutual support within a crowd," Drury reported.
"However, what was also interesting was the centrality of emotion in the accounts. Empowering events were almost without exception described as joyous occasions. Participants experienced a deep sense of happiness and even euphoria in being involved in protest events. Simply recounting the events in the interview itself brought a smile to the faces of the interviewees."
Our recognition of the role of positive experiences and emotions in promoting psychological and physical health is nothing new. Uplifting experiences have been found to be associated with speed of physiological recovery; ability to cope with physical stressors; and the reduction of pain, anxiety and depression. Now we can add "collective action" to the list of "uplifting experiences" that have a proven positive emotional effect.
This article was adapted from the 12/13/02 issue of the Bulletin of the University of Sussex. It can be found at www.sussex.ac.uk/press_office/bulletin/13dec02/article3.shtml.
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