Nature and Mental Health

Holiday season, many are looking for moments to relax, get out of the routine, go to the beach, the pool, the mountains, the countryside… somehow, we are looking for a connection with something that brings us closer to nature.

For many, contact with nature is relaxing, invigorating, for others it is stressful. The benefits of this contact, however, were proven by a study organized by the NGO The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in partnership with the University of Virginia and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, which analysed the relationship between contact with nature and the quality of mental health.

Currently, most of us live in urban areas, as highlighted by the study published in the scientific journal Sustainable Earth, with 46% of people living in large cities already suffering from some problems related to mental health. It is estimated that currently only 13% of the world’s urban population lives close to nature.

Researchers analysed a series of studies on economics, health and the environment to suggest that the same potential for human interaction that makes cities attractive for productivity, creativity and innovation increasingly contributes to what they called the phenomenon of “urban psychological penalty” , represented by the increase in stress and mental disorders.

In response to such a penalty, past research has shown that even quick interactions with nature can have health benefits, alleviating the symptoms of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

In another complementary study, researchers from King’s College London created the Urban Mind app, which assesses the influence of green areas for those who live in urban spaces. Based on more than 2000 assessments, the study suggests that nature’s benefits on mental well-being are lasting and interact with an individual’s vulnerability to mental illness.

To analyse the momentary well-being, the participants had to answer for several days’ questions such as: “where are you can see the trees?”, “can you see the sky?”, “can you hear the birds singing?”, “can you see or hear the water?”.

According to one of the researchers, being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birds singing, seeing the sky and feeling in touch with nature were associated with higher levels of momentary mental well-being. The study’s authors also point out that much is said about the formation of heat islands and the risk of flooding in cities, but the relationship between ecological imbalance and psychological illnesses is rarely made.

Research suggests that green spaces should be included in the development of urban centres, as the meaning of nature in people’s daily lives should also be understood as a matter of public health. The care and presence of parks, squares, gardens of all sizes in urban centres can provide these various physical and mental benefits.