PEERS Perspectives is a blog series that offers thoughts and reflections from our staff and community members on mental health, current events, and the ways they affect our lives.

Today’s post on Mental Health perspective is written by Program Evaluation Specialist Sarah Marxer

Participating in Democracy: Good for Our Mental Health?

I was at the end of a long, lousy day and found myself grouchy and tired. A couple of hours later, I’d recovered both my energy and my spirits. What turned things around? In short, participating in our democracy. I’d spent that couple of hours working (virtually) with a group of like-minded people toward a common goal. We were calling voters, asking them to support a proposition on the November ballot that I believe will make our communities work better for all of us.

Generally, calling people I don’t know wouldn’t seem like something that would lift my mood. But being part of a group working together to make positive changes in our community and making individual connections with some of the voters I reached on the phone did, in fact, change my outlook. And it turns out that this isn’t just true for me.

Civic engagement, which can include voting, community organizing, volunteering, or even participating in a community garden, is linked to better health in a bunch of ways. A review of research on the topic found that improvements in both physical and mental health are related to increased civic engagement. And some studies even show that there might be a positive feedback loop in which more civic participation earlier in life is associated with less depression later in life. Healthy People 2020, the nation’s major health goals, include civic participation, because community involvement can help give us a sense of purpose, build our social connections, and increase access to emotional support. 

Some doctors see the link between civic participation and health as so important that they’re “prescribing” voter registration to their patients. These doctors are more focused on the ways that communities can advocate for their own needs and interests — thereby improving their health — through involvement in the political process than they are on whether voting can improve an individual’s health. 

For these reasons and more, I hope you’ll join me in registering to vote and voting. To vote in the election on November 3rd, you’ll need to register by October 19th!  If you’re already registered — or if you’re not sure whether you’re registered, you can check on your registration details here: https://voterstatus.sos.ca.gov/

Maybe there’s an issue or candidate on the ballot that you care enough about to volunteer your time.