Research studies impact of nature on mental health

Expert team of researchers from the University of Washington and Stanford University have devoted a research to understand the link between healing mental illness and nature experiences.

According to reports, one in five adults in the US suffer from mental illness, while 450 million suffer from neurological or mental disorder worldwide, while only about a third seek help. A new study now suggests that interaction with nature and people’s experience with nature can benefit their cognitive functioning and also improve their psychological wellbeing. However, experts are struggling to find ways to quantify these benefits in order to integrate nature for cities and organizations which will thus help tackle the issue of mental health.

Research team at the University is thus directing efforts towards developing a framework for city planners and municipalities that will help to measure nature’s benefits in treating mental health. Moreover, they are also drawing plans for cities and coming up with ways in which they can incorporate these into city policies.

“Thinking about the direct mental health benefits that nature contact provides is important to take into account when planning how to conserve nature and integrate it into our cities,” commented Greg Bratman. “The purpose of this paper is to provide a conceptual model of one way we can start to think about doing this,” he adds. Bratman is the lead author and an assistant professor at the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

Regarded as the first step in understanding the impact of nature’s experiences on human well-being, cognitive functioning, emotional well-being and its effect on other dimensions of mental health, the recent study has brought together collaborative research efforts of health, social and natural sciences.

“In hundreds of studies, nature experience is associated with increased happiness, social engagement, and manageability of life tasks, and decreased mental distress,” commented senior author Gretchen Daily. He is also the faculty director at the Stanford Natural Capital Project. “In addition, nature experience is linked to improved cognitive functioning, memory and attention, imagination and creativity, and children’s school performance. These links span many dimensions of human experience, and include a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life.”

As per sources, experts agree nature can curb risk factors for various types of mental illnesses and can also help improve psychological well-being. Furthermore, researchers believe people are losing out on nature experiences as nature’s course is dwindling for preference to urban growth.

According to Bratman, various traditions, religions and spiritual practices share a deep and direct connection with nature. Moreover, by means of other set of tools from the field of architecture, medicine, public health, and psychology, increasing evidence is been gathered for this emerging and interdisciplinary field.

Many governments are also drawing efforts in the field by planting more trees, in order to improve air quality and tackle the effects of urban heat. Moreover, cities are encouraging physical activity by maintaining parks.

“We have entered the urban century, with two-thirds of humanity projected to be living in cities by 2050. At the same time, there is an awakening underway today, to the many values of nature and the risks and costs of its loss,” Daily commented. “This new work can help inform investments in livability and sustainability of the world’s cities.”

The recent study appeared in Science Advances on July 24. It speaks about a conceptual model built by researchers in order to enable informed decisions about environmental projects and their effect on mental health. The model demonstrates four steps for planners: how people interact with nature; how people will benefit from the interactions; amount of contact people will have with nature; and elements of nature included in the entire city planning.