Agner, J., Pruitt, A. S., Barile, J. P.
8th International Conference of Community Psychology. Melbourne, AU (virtual).
Publication year: 2020

Decades of research underscore the importance of social support in improving health, decreasing perceived stigma, decreasing mortality, and enhancing quality of life. Unfortunately, we know very little about the conditions that lead to supportive relationships, particularly among people with severe and persistent mental illness, who are more likely to suffer from isolation. This presentation combines findings from a longitudinal Photovoice project with individuals in a Housing First program, a multi-site Photovoice project with mental health Clubhouses, and a pilot program to re-engage individuals with HIV in medical care, to consider aspects of the environment that enhance or prevent a sense belonging. In addition to sharing insights from three unique programs, we will discuss the potential for participatory research to increase social support and sense of belonging among marginalized individuals.

The first presentation will define social support and its importance for individual and community wellbeing, specifically for individuals with HIV. It will discuss findings from a recent a HIV Treatment as Prevention project, highlighting the negative impacts lack of social support has for individuals living with HIV, and how they might be ameliorated. The second presentation will examine the role of mental health Clubhouses in creating community for individuals with severe and persistent mental illness. Specifically, we look at how individuals made to feel welcome and engaged in Clubhouse activities, the importance of having a dignified space, and the impact that that Clubhouse participation has on member’s quality of life. The third will discuss a 4-year longitudinal Photovoice study with Housing First participants. Relevant findings suggest that having projects and hobbies that “give back” to the community gave individuals a sense of purpose, created a sense of belonging to the community, and aided individuals in dealing with continuing stigma. Presenters will focus both project findings and process, providing insights on how research itself can create a safe place where participants are valued and contributing members.

Finally, audience members will be encouraged to reflect upon and contribute their insights to the conversation from their own practices, scholarship, and theoretical backgrounds. In particular, the audience will be asked to consider what “belonging” means for them in their own research and practice; how or if they consider “belonging” and other aspects of social support when designing their research projects; and how they create belonging within their own professional environments.