The Environment and our Mental Wellbeing

May was mental health awareness month, and as we go into summer this blog looks at some of the benefits of the natural environment to our collective mental health.

Roisin Campbell
Written by:

Roisin Campbell

June 9, 2022

Parks offered some respite to the population through the pandemic, which is no surprise as the impact of the natural environment on mental and physical wellbeing is becoming increasingly well-documented. Nearly half of people in the UK said to mentalhealth.org that visiting green spaces helped them to cope throughout the pandemic.  

Although it is certainly not the “be all and end all” to maintaining good mental health, accessing open green spaces is helpful for many people and provides an excellent opportunity to destress.

Outdoor activities and mental health  

Growing food or flowers, exercising outdoors or being around animals, and other activities that promote nature-connectedness can have positive effects on mental wellbeing. Visiting nature more than once a week has been associated with better health.  

It is true that research has suggested that spending time outdoors can reduce stress, improve physical health by promoting movement, and help you to connect with your local community. But it is important to note that “high quality” natural spaces are better for us and our wellbeing than less well-preserved natural spaces. Equalising the accessibility of green spaces and fostering a connection with a healthy natural environment would “save billions of pounds in healthcare costs and reduced economic activity every year”, according to research conducted by the Environment Agency. 

Trees in Sunlight
Tree Canopy

Trees and wellbeing

Even just spending time around trees can have a positive effect on your mental health. They help us to feel less stressed and more restored. Research has shown that trees can calm the body, lower blood pressure, enhance our mood, and make us more relaxed, and even lead to reduced crime rates 

Reducing feelings of loneliness  

Loneliness can create anxiety and other mental health problems, and one study has found it had the same impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It has been suggested that contact with nature in cities significantly reduces feelings of loneliness. Loneliness is a now a major public health concern, and can raise a person’s risk of death by 45% – more than air pollution, obesity or alcohol abuse. 

Finding meaning  

It may not come as a surprise to people that research shows that the closer we get to nature, the happier we are, the more worthwhile life seems, and the more we are willing to take action to help our wildlife and the environment.  

Taking note of nature each day for a week brings sustained and “clinically significant improvements in mental health.” Dozens of studies are part of mounting evidence that have shown having a strong sense of connection to nature helps people feel good and function well. But a population survey even found the strength of a person’s sense of connection to nature was four times more important than socio-economic status in explaining their sense that life is worthwhile. 

According to gov.uk, 85% of adults report that being in nature makes them happy, and this was consistent across different population groups 

Ecus are dedicated to preserving and enhancing the natural environment. But we also have recently had two more members of staff complete mental health first aider training: Abbie Jenkins and Tia Stewart. This training will empower staff to spot signs of poor mental health and offer first aid support.