There has long been a connection between time spent in nature and improving wellbeing and mental health. As a result of restrictions and lockdowns, some would argue this relationship has become more apparent than ever. The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) surveyed over 4000 people to analyse our relationship between nature and mental health.
MHF have been hosting Mental Health Awareness Week for 21 years, the week runs from the 10th to the 16th of May. This year the chosen theme of nature feels very apt, as many of us over the last year have either used access to nature and nature filled spaces as a crutch, or many have likely noticed a distinct lack of nature in our day to day lives.
Those living in lockdowns without gardens or access to nearby parks or the ability to travel to wide open spaces such as national parks, moors, downs, forests and woodlands will have acutely felt the negative effects of not being able to experience nature.
On the flip side, those who have been able to access parks and wide-open spaces have reported the overwhelmingly positive effects on their mental health.
Over the three days of the 6th-8th of April this year, MHF conducted a survey on people’s engagement with nature over the past year and its effects.
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Seven in ten UK adults reported that being close to nature has improved their mood, more than 65% of survey participants mentioned that being in nature results in positive experiences such as “calm”, “wonder” and “joy”. Almost half said being close to nature has helped them “cope with stress” and “makes them less worried or anxious.”
In contrast to these positive findings, the survey also found that 11% of the participants found it fairly or even very difficult to access nature when they have wanted to.
12% of adults also reported spending no more than one hour a week in nature.
MHF also stated that 44% of participants felt they were “not connecting or feeling a close engagement with nature” and 38% wanted to feel closer to nature. MHF brought up some important barriers that they found in their findings, particularly for women (44%) and young people (18-24) (25%) who do not feel physically safe or safe from harm whilst experiencing nature alone.
Chief Executive of MHF, Mark Rowland has said “While nature won’t solve all our problems – prioritising time in nature can really help support good mental health. However, the most important thing is the quality of the experience and feeling like we connect with nature by trying to notice it’s beauty and absorb its sights, sounds and scents...We also need to go beyond what we as individuals can do, and engage Government, local councils and others in bringing nature to the centre of all our lives.”
Another interesting finding from this survey was that, “in normal times before the pandemic 12 percent of adults spent up to one hour or less per week in nature – which is less than the recommended amount, suggested by research into how much time in nature boosts health and wellbeing.
Most importantly MHF note that we, as a society and a culture need to prioritise making nature filled spaces more accessible to everyone.
Mr Rowland stated, “Nature is not a luxury, and everyone needs to access and experience its benefits to their mental health. One of the biggest issues our study revealed was that many people identified safety as an issue that prevented them from accessing nature. A significant number also felt they weren’t getting the time they needed to connect with nature in a way that was helpful.”
As a response to this Mr Rowland explained, “That is why the Mental Health Foundation is recommending Government prioritise support for the mental health benefits of nature in public policy and employ specific measurements around connection with nature as evidence of impact.”
Mr Rowland then goes on to articulate that this needs to start at a local level where councils are willing to prioritise nature in living, study, and work environments. This could be something as simple as more tree planting in residential neighbourhoods, better maintained and expanded nature filled areas on campuses, schools and city centres.
Mr Rowland concludes by saying, ““Nature is a simple but fundamental way we can support and improve the mental health of millions of people. It’s vital we make that link and put it at the heart of how we build our society.”
You can take part in this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme by talking about your own experiences with the benefits of nature on wellbeing and mental health, promoting your favourite local nature filled spaces to visit, local nature activity groups such as walking groups etc. by using the #ConnectWithNature and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek hashtags.