Sense of belonging to country affects mental health - study

A marae.
A marae. Photo credit: Getty

Kiwis with a strong attachment to New Zealand's culture and community are likely to have greater mental health, according to a new study.

Published in Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online, the University of Otago study draws on the views of more than 24,000 people who took part in the biannual New Zealand General Social Survey.

It found a positive relationship between a sense of belonging to New Zealand and mental health.

Co-author Associate Professor Jackie Hunter says the study shows Kiwis should encourage people who migrate to Aotearoa to develop a connection with New Zealand's culture.

"People grow really deep connections with places, whether it be a neighbourhood, city, region or country. Moreover, these places often become part of our identity or who we are," Associate Prof Hunter said in a statement.

"In psychology, belonging is viewed as a fundamental need. That means it's not just something we may want, it is like food and water - we can't live without it."

Dr Damian Scarf, a co-author on the study, said the main reason people gave for not feeling able to express themselves was concern about how others would respond.

"This highlights how we need to make sure we are open and accepting of others expressing themselves, whether that be their culture, sexuality, etc."

The relationship between belonging and mental health was also found to be stronger for older participants and those who felt they were free to express their identity.

This has been put down to the increasing importance of place with age and the impact of growing up in New Zealand during significant events such as the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal, the nuclear weapon-free zone, and the Springbok rugby tour.

The study was controlled for the individuals' physical health, socioeconomic status and other potential demographic variables.

The study, Express yourself? Ease to express one’s identity mediates the relationship between national belonging and mental health, can be found here.