Mental Health, Nature

Nature & Mental Health

Contributor: Bennett H. Jones, MSW, LICSW


fence-1853962_1920Nature has been integrated within different healthcare environments for centuries.  Gardens and courtyards have been set up near hospitals (or areas formerly referred to as infirmaries).  To this day, nature has become a driving force behind wellness programs.  Fitness groups are taking their cla
sses into the woods or at the very least outside, to get a break from “the four walls”.  Yoga classes are being offered in city centers surrounded by green grass and luscious plants, or on the edge of a lake.

Needless to say, the ideas are not new but they sure are sparking a revival in how we view health and wellness.  According to Bratman, Hamilton and Daily, Germany is one country that has a specific nature component built into their hospitals and it goes by the name Kur.  The Kur includes things like walks in nature and the use of herbal remedies in addition to modern medicine (p.119).  

One need not be a real-estate guru to know that properties near nature, be it lakes, rivers, streams or woodlands, come with a price tag.  Being near nature is something people long for.  Within sociology, psychology and related fields (e.g. social work, marriage and family therapy), it is broadly accepted that a sense of belonging is of vital importance to us as people.  We all need community, connection and the common element in both of them, a sense of belonging.  Environmental scholar, Wilson suggested that people also require a similar sense of belonging with (and to) nature.  

Recently, there has been more written about the direct mental health benefits of being outdoors and in nature, which includes nature-based therapies. So, let’s talk about what the benefits are exactly . . . (After taking a brief visual vacation, below) 

lake-irene-1679708_1920

 

The following are trends associated with increased time in nature:

  • Increase in positive moods and decrease in negative moods.
  • Increase in attention and concentration.
  • Decrease in recovery time from certain medical illnesses, which have been noted from something as simple as having a window with a view of nature.
  • Decrease in overall stress level.

Parting Thoughts:

This is simply one article about the benefits of getting outside & in nature.  The studies I referenced did not explore other health benefits that are indirectly associated with nature, such as the benefits of vitamin D from sunlight for sufferers of depression.  This also doesn’t explore things such as benefits of swimming in natural waters (like lakes or seas), or healing benefits from aromas from nature (such as pine tree, essential oils, or scent you smell when in the woods).  With other related areas, the evidence supporting the “let’s go outside” message, is even stronger.  
For ideas of places to get outdoors, please see this list of suggestions (not exhaustive).

  • Locate a park in the area where you live.
  • Check out the registry of state parks
  • Open up a map of your state and look for bodies of water to explore
  • Ask a friend to go on a walk, to get the benefits for mental health and increase your connectivity with your support network!

References:

Bratman, G.N., Hamilton, J.P. and Daily, G.C.  (2012). The impacts of nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,  Stanford University, Stanford, CA