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.

Britain’s Prince William recently announced the launch of the Earthshot Award, which will offer £ 5 million for good environmental ideas

As with the Nobel Prize, the Earthshot Prize will offer from 2021 five prizes of 1 million pounds annually, for the next 10 years, with the aim of supporting 50 solutions to the world’s biggest environmental problems.

The Award is centred on five ‘Earthshots’ – which are the goals that must be achieved by 2030, with the aim of improving the lives of all of us, for this and the next generations.

The five categories are: “Protect and restore nature”; “Clean the air we breathe”; “Recovering the oceans”; “Building a world without waste” and “Improving the climate”.

Each Earthshot is supported by scientific goals, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals and other internationally recognized measures to help our planet.

Who can participate?

Any individual, team or partnership, including scientists, activists, economists, governments, business leaders and even cities or countries, can compete for the award.

Each winner will receive a contribution of one million pounds to support contemplated environmental and conservation projects, in addition to  benefiting from high visibility and support for the large-scale implementation of their solution.

The award’s board is formed by a global team of influential personalities, from different sectors of society, all committed to promoting positive actions in the environmental area. Today, the board, together with Prince William and Sir David Attenborough – British naturalist:

–  Her Majesty, Queen Rania Al Abdullah (Jordan);

–  Cate Blanchett – actress, filmmaker and humanitarian activist (Australia);

–  Christiana Figueres – Former head of climate at the UN, responsible for the historic Paris Agreement (Costa Rica);

–  Daniel Alves – soccer player (Brazil);

–  Sir David Attenborough – television presenter, writer and naturalist (United Kingdom);

–  Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim – environmentalist (Chad);

–  Indra Nooyi – executive, former president and CEO of PepsiCo (USA and India);

–  Jack Ma – philanthropist, businessman and UNSDG ambassador (China);

–  Naoko Yamazaki – ex-astronaut aboard the International Space Station (Japan);

–  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – economist and specialist in international development (Nigeria);

–  Shakira – singer and philanthropist (Colombia);

–  Yao Ming – member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and environmentalist (China).

Check out the Award launch video:

Nature and Mental Health

Nature improves your health

Daily contact with nature is linked to reduced levels of chronic stress, reductions in obesity and improved concentration, so get your colleagues outside and help them feel healthier.

Nature makes happier workers

Green your office by creating an outside area and encouraging lunchtime walks. There is a 10% reduction in work absence if employees are able to look at a green space rather than a wall.

Green offices boost productivity

Adding plants and photos of wildlife (or even playing birdsong!) can help your colleagues at work. Employees are 15% more productive when workplaces have even a few houseplants.

Nature makes you more active

Map out local walking routes in wild places for people to enjoy at lunchtime. People with easy access to nature are three times as likely to be active as those without access.

Green exercise can save the NHS money

Ecotherapy could reduce antidepressant prescription costs, so encourage walking meetings and exercise in your workplace. Mind has shown that green exercise benefits health and wellbeing.

Green neighbourhoods cut depression

Natural features near houses reduce mental illness. Work with neighbours to create wildflower borders and bird feeding stations.

Decreased pollution can contribute to reducing the risk of depression

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that pollution of fine particles, that is, those carried by air and that may include dust and soot, be kept below 10 micrograms per cubic meter (µg / m3).

Researchers at University College London said that falling levels of pollution worldwide could contribute to reducing the risk of depression.

In the study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers analysed data from 16 countries and found evidence of a link between air pollution and a range of mental problems. With that, the team concluded that exposure to air pollution may be associated with an increased risk of depression.

It is well known that pollutants cause numerous health risks, ranging from heart and lung diseases to strokes. Now, with this research, scientists show that this pollution can also harm mental health, making it urgent the need for stricter control of pollutant emissions into the atmosphere.

Pollution versus Suicide

The research also shows evidence of a link between the amount of pollutants in the atmosphere and the number of suicides. According to the study, when looking at a three-day period, the risk of suicide is higher when pollutant levels are higher, compared to less polluted periods.

The team responsible for the study said it is not yet possible to confirm whether air pollution directly causes mental health problems, but says there is evidence to suggest possible causal mechanisms. This is because air particles can reach the brain through both the bloodstream and the nostrils, causing damage to nerve cells and changes in the production of stress hormones, which are associated with mental disorders.

How to contribute to this?

Much remains to be done to reduce air pollution levels in large cities. But the World Health Organisation recommends that industries limit their emissions and that there is more investment in technologies for the generation of renewable energy. These actions are not available to the majority of the population, but even so, it is possible to contribute to a more balanced environment by prioritising public transport and the use of bicycles, for example.

If you also want to do your part, join me now with this challenge! Help to develop and adopt your own environmentally friendlier approach to living, become a Planet Saviour. You can do a lot to increase the quality of life in big cities!