Green Space & Mental Health

A bird's eye view of a a forest pathway- Credit UAVisionary

Mental Health Awareness Week is the ongoing effort to reduce the stigma around mental illness and mental health conditions. For 2022, between 9th – 15th May and although the particular focus is on loneliness; it is important to recognise the positive impact that green space has both on our mental health and also loneliness.

The health benefits and particularly mental health benefits that green spaces such as parks and woodlands have on us have been known since the 19th-century urban parks movement in Europe and North America. Green space and trees are fundamental to our well-being and quality of life, whether in an urban or rural context. They secure many environmental, economic and social benefits when planned and managed appropriately. There are multiple pieces of scientific research specific in relation to the positive impact that exposure to green space and trees has on our mental health.

A bird's eye view of a a forest pathway- Credit UAVisonary
A bird’s eye view of a forest pathway- Credit UAVisonary

Particularly through the past 2 years of Covid-19, we are likely to have all changed our routines whether it be now working from home, spending time outside, different working patterns, homeschooling (hopefully no longer) amongst many other things. It was put really well by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE, a multiple gold medal-winning Paralympian amongst many other things, she described us now ‘living at work’ due to the impact of Covid-19. This was in reference to the negative impact and mental health impact that Covid-19 has had on the general population, many of us simply can’t get away from the computer screen the office phone and emails. Much of our general work routine has disappeared because it is so easy to just say “I’ll be there in 5 minutes” or “just one last email” or worse still waking up on a weekend and realising your laptop is just there and you can finish that piece of work which ordinarily would have waited until the Monday. Creating boundaries between home and work is very difficult when they are not physical, and although everyone’s ability to adapt quickly, it has meant the lines have become blurred for many between work and home.

One positive routine that I have witnessed and spoken to many people about, is the need and routine to go for a walk in green space or use green space to meet with people. I wonder if people’s opinion in relation to the need for more green space within 5 minutes from your front door is more valuable than ever. When moving house is the proximity of green space now near the top of the must-have list?

“One of the really interesting things we found is that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol – a physiological marker of stress. Forest bathing is already really popular as a therapy in Japan, with participants spending time in the forest walking around. Our study shows that perhaps they have the right idea!”

Researcher Twohig-Bennett

Given for many of us there is a newfound respect for the need to be closer to nature and green space, the major question is now as we see higher amounts of land being developed and particularly larger scale and development/new settlements being created why do we still see the landscape, tree planting and creation of new habitats still being the first off the list when budgets are cut, or left to decline once planted? How do we create the positive change that is very shown on drawings but not implemented on the ground? How do we support local government to increase the number of qualified team members to manage our parks and open spaces, as opposed to cutting budgets?

Just a couple of statistics from The Fields In Trust in their recent publication Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces which aims to change perceptions by establishing a baseline for the value that parks and green spaces contribute to health and wellbeing rather than simply being judged by what they cost to maintain.

  • The Total Economic Value to an individual is £30.24 per year (£2.52 per month), and includes benefits gained from using their local park or green space and non-use benefits such as the preservation of parks for future generations
  • The Wellbeing Value associated with the frequent use of local parks and green spaces is worth £34.2 billion per year to the entire UK adult population
  • Parks and green spaces are estimated to save the NHS around £111 million per year based solely on a reduction in GP visits and excluding any additional savings from prescribing or referrals

The last stat is the most alarming, why wouldn’t we want to save this significant amount on the NHS.

(To read the full report click here)

The Benefits of Green Space and Nature For Children

The benefits of being closer to nature to our children have also been researched. This has shown that being close to nature increases the cognitive abilities and attention spans of children and fosters their creative thought process, problem-solving skills and self-discipline. Children that spend more time outdoors working with soil and plants are more sensitive to their surroundings and develop a sense of belonging and appreciation of the environment as they grow up. Studies have suggested that the people closer to green spaces have a lower risk of developing psychiatric disorders compared to the ones with fewer green spaces.  

Our Top 5 Mental Health Benefits of Trees and Green Space

If you take a 20-30 minute walk amongst trees and in green space and we believe these are the top 5 benefits:

  1. Reduce stress levels
  2. Improve creativity and concentration
  3. Improve physical health
  4. Improve your sleep
  5. Improve recovery rates from illness.

Written by Peter Wharton, Director


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