Teenagers want safer, cleaner local nature to support their mental health

Updated: Aug 23


British teenagers are asking for cleaner, safer, and more local natural space along with greener streets to help them benefit from nature, research from the Mental Health Foundation reveals.


The research showed that the vast majority of those aged 13 to 19 live in urban areas, making the state of cities and towns a significant influence on their lives and mental health.


The Foundation is calling for central government, local governments, and other bodies responsible for planning local developments to prioritise ‘green’ spaces and planting in urban areas, to help improve access to nature.


Head of Policy at the Mental Health Foundation Lucy Thorpe said: “The vast majority of teenagers in the UK now live in urban areas. This means that local councils in those areas can help protect the mental health of millions of young people.


“One of the ways we’re asking them to do this is to prioritise people’s access to nature in the streets and places where they live, study and work.


“For instance, they should require new developments to include trees, plants and public open spaces where people can actually sit and experience nature – and ensure those places are clean, safe and make everyone feel welcome.“


Around half the teenagers surveyed said that spending time close to nature makes them feel better.


Fifty two per cent said it improves their mood, while 49% said that being in nature gave them positive emotions including calm, joy, excitement, and wonder.


The research was released to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year had the theme of Nature.


Read more: Nature helps 7 in 10 adults improve their mood

Asked which, if any, of a list of options would help them to benefit more from nature, teenagers were most likely to choose improvements to their local environments.


Most popular was “better quality public natural spaces”, chosen by 32% of those surveyed, while 31% said, “more trees and plants grown around my streets.”


“Making my local open spaces/area feel safer” was chosen by 30% of all teenagers surveyed.


Young women and teenagers with long-term health conditions that limit their abilities were more likely than young men to say that safety improvements would help them benefit more from nature.


The creation of “more parks or natural spaces…near to me” was equally important, chosen by 30% of teenagers.


A further 12% of all teenagers said that “feeling able to spend time in nature without fear of discrimination” would help them to benefit more from nature.


The survey of 2399 British teenagers was done online between April 9 and 29, 2021.


Thorpe added: “Because the evidence is clear: experiencing nature is a much-needed balm for our mental health, no matter who we are. Time spent connecting with nature can improve mood and reduce anxiety and depression. Our research suggests that people already know this from their own experience, including during the pandemic.


“We have also found that 75% of UK adults strongly support local councils ‘maintaining existing outdoor areas to ensure they are clean and safe’.


“There is clearly overwhelming public support for councils to act accordingly: protecting and enhancing the natural spaces we already have, improving their safety, cleanliness and accessibility and adding to them at every opportunity.


“From what teenagers have told us, such action would also make an important difference to them, and their ability to spend time in natural spaces, from which they have as much right to benefit as everyone else.”


Written by Hedi Mehrez News reporter for Talking Mental Health Twitter: @Adver_HediM