Protesting May Be Good for Your Health
Monday, December 23, 2002
LONDON (Reuters Health) - Taking part in protests and demonstrations can be good for your physical and mental health, a new British study suggests.
Psychologists at the University of Sussex found that people who get involved in campaigns, strikes and political demonstrations experience an improvement in psychological well-being that can help them overcome stress, pain, anxiety and depression.
The finding fits in with other studies suggesting that positive experiences and feeling part of a group can have beneficial effects on health.
"Collective actions, such as protests, strikes, occupations and demonstrations, are less common in the UK than they were perhaps 20 years ago," researcher Dr. John Drury said in a statement.
"The take-home message from this research therefore might be that 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."
The results emerged from in-depth interviews with nearly 40 activists from a variety of backgrounds. Between them, they had more than 160 experiences of collective action involving groups of demonstrators protesting against a range of issues. These included fox-hunting, environmental damage and industrial matters.
Volunteers were asked to describe what it was about taking part in such collective action that made them feel so good.
"Many published activist accounts refer to feelings of encouragement and confidence emerging from experiences of collective action," said Drury. "But it is not always clear how and why such empowerment occurs, so we aimed to explain what factors within a collective action event contribute to such feelings."
He said the interviews revealed that the key factors were that participants felt they had a collective identity with fellow protestors. They also derived a sense of unity and mutual support from taking part.
Such was the strength of the feelings they experienced that the effects appear to be sustained over a period of time.
"Empowering events were almost without exception described as joyous occasions," said Drury. "Participants experienced a deep sense of happiness and even euphoria in being involved in protest events. Simply recounting the events in the interview brought a smile to the face of the interviewees."