A new survey has highlighted the various beneficial effects that nature can have on mental health to mark this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
Published by the Mental Health Foundation, the research shows that 7 in 10 adults (70%) in the UK find being close to nature improves their mood.
And for 65% of those surveyed, being close to nature made them feel positive emotions such as joy, calm and wonder.
The survey was carried out in April and was published to mark the start of the Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year has the theme of Nature.
“Nature can be a powerful ally in protecting our mental health, preventing distress, and ensuring good mental wellbeing," says chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, Mark Rowland.
“During the pandemic, millions of us discovered nature’s power to relieve stress, worry, anxiety and restore us with positive emotions, such as joy.
“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 its beauty and absorb its sights, sounds and scents.”
The survey of 4274 people aged 18 and over also found that there were some key barriers to people being able to access nature in the way they would like.
Many said they struggled to get enough time in nature with 1 in 10 adults (11%) saying they found it fairly or very difficult to access nature when they wanted.
More than a quarter of women (26%) and a quarter of people aged between 18 and 24 (25%) said that not feeling physically safe or safe from harm had hindered them from enjoying nature.
“Nature is not a luxury, and everyone needs to access and experience its benefits to their mental health," adds Rowland.
“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.
“That is why the Mental Health Foundation is recommending that the 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.”
More than 4 in 10 (44%) UK adults said that they were not connecting or feeling a close engagement with nature often enough to help their mental health, while almost 4 in 10 (38%) wanted to do so more often.
The survey also found that ‘in normal times’ before the pandemic, 12% of adults spent up to 1 hour of less per week in nature – which is less than the 2 hours a week that research suggests can significantly boost health and wellbeing.
The charity is asking for councils to prioritise nature by providing more opportunities to experience nature locally.
“We also want councils to make accessible provision of nature and natural places and more trees and planting in neighbourhoods a key part of planning,” says Rowland.
“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.”
Mental Health Awareness Week – which runs from May 10th to 16th – has been hosted and run by the Mental Health Foundation for the last 21 years.
Written by Hedi Mehrez
News reporter for Talking Mental Health