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In the constant rhythm of modern life, where stress and anxiety have become unwelcome, the healing powers of nature are proving to be a promising antidote to mental health. Scientific studies and research highlight the positive effects that green spaces have on people’s mental health, highlighting the important role that nature plays in promoting well-being and combating the negative effects of urban life.

Biophilia: Our Innate Connection to Nature

The concept of « biophilia » underscores the fundamental bond humans share with nature, and this connection plays a pivotal role in the considerable positive impact that green spaces have on mental health.  Biophilia is a human evolutionary process. This process considers different typologies of Nature and human cultures and leads us to consider environmental preference and psycho-physiological recovery about the threshold of time spent in contact with Nature. Unfortunately, modern people, especially children, lack direct and frequent contact with Nature and this can have negative consequences on their physical and mental health.  

The research published in the National Library of Medicine suggests that exposure to green environments and natural elements can evoke a positive psychological response. Being in proximity to nature has been linked to a range of mental health benefits, including stress reduction, improved concentration, and increased feelings of happiness. This phenomenon is rooted in our evolutionary history, where humans evolved in close connection with the natural environment.

The findings highlight the importance of incorporating green spaces into urban planning and design which is called Biophilic design, this architectural approach not only contributes to the aesthetics of a city but also plays a crucial role in promoting mental well-being. By recognizing and fostering our inherent connection to nature, we are stimulating the innate biophilia of the individual. This can offer valuable insights into developing strategies for improving mental health outcomes in diverse communities.

Global Happiness Index: Nature as a Key Contributor

William Russell, an international health insurance specialist, has conducted a comprehensive ranking of the 26 OECD countries in 2022, considering various factors related to the promotion of psychological well-being. These criteria include the balance between private and professional life, the environment, the presence of green spaces, and public spending on mental healthcare. « Each country was given a score out of ten for each factor, before averaging all factors for a final score out of ten, » explains William Russell. 

The report highlighted countries like Sweden, a leader in mental health care, where abundant green landscapes contribute to citizens’ high life satisfaction. With a score of 7.13, Sweden tops the ranking, followed by Germany with 6.60 and Finland with 6.47. Sweden takes the lead, notably due to its green spaces. The country « hosts lush coniferous forests that occupy the majority of its land, providing a perfect environment for relaxation and mental well-being, » according to experts. Additionally, Swedes benefit from a good balance between professional and private life, a criterion that also allows Germany to secure the second position. The country also allocates over 11% of its healthcare budget to the psychological well-being of its citizens. Finland, known as the happiest country in the world, stands out for its environmental factors, including its high percentage of green spaces (73% of its territory).

Urban Challenges: Nature Deficiency and Mental Health Issues

According to the World Happiness Report, the countries which consistently rank highly, highlight the relationship between the natural environment and overall happiness. Conversely, the effects of stress-related disorders occur more frequently in urban areas with limited green space. The lack of natural therapeutic effects in urban environments can lead to increased anxiety and depression and a higher prevalence of mood disorders. According to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2019, 1 in every 8 people, or 970 million people around the world were living with a mental disorder, with anxiety and depressive disorders as the most common

As urbanization increases, the importance of incorporating green spaces into urban planning is becoming increasingly apparent. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests that people living in urban environments without access to parks and green spaces experience increased psychological stress. This study investigates the momentary association between urban greenspace, captured using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) derived from Landsat imagery, and psychological stress, captured using Geographic Ecological Momentary Assessment (GEMA), in the activity spaces of a sample of American adolescents residing in Richmond, Virginia. Results indicate that urban green space is associated with lower stress when subjects are away from home. Subjects may also seek out urban greenspaces at times of lower stress or explicitly for purposes of stress reduction. 

Zootherapy: a hope for children with mental health problems

In addition to its positive effects on overall mental health, nature is increasingly recognized as a therapeutic resource for targeted medical interventions, and one of the pioneering tools in this field is animal therapy. The zootherapy approach uses nature strategically to address children’s mental health issues. A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology highlights the effectiveness of animal therapy in conjunction with traditional treatments, showing that it may significantly reduce symptoms in children suffering from conditions such as ADHD and anxiety disorders.

Animal therapy is not only a breakthrough in treatment strategies but also highlights the important role of incorporating natural elements into traditional medical practice. This reflects a nuanced understanding of the relationship between human well-being and the environment. Thus, it reinforces the idea that nature can be used as an ally in the quest for mental health and healing.

In fact, these discoveries have the potential to reshape the landscape of mental health interventions, especially for vulnerable populations such as children with mental health problems. Incorporating natural elements into medical practice has proven to be a promising avenue, consistent with a growing understanding of the symbiotic relationship between nature and human well-being.

To summarize, Using animal therapy as an example, integrating nature into medical practice highlights the possibility of a harmonious coexistence between the natural world and mental health.  By recognizing the proven benefits of green spaces and prioritizing their integration into urban planning, societies can create environments that not only promote well-being but also serve as holistic solutions to modern mental health challenges.

Mayssa Sandli

Chief Editor and Co-founder of Blue TN. I'm specialized in corporate social and environmental responsibility and environmental activist since 2016.

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