Nourish mental health by spending time outdoors
I keep reading about Mental Health Awareness Week – is there any connection between the environment and climate change and our mental health?
The short answer is yes.
Directly, there are subtle ways in which climate change affects mental health – for example, we know warmer weather due to climate change, and pollution from burning oil and gas lead to poor air quality – which studies have found impacts mental health and increases levels of anxiety and depression.
On the more direct links, studies have found that people who live through extreme weather events like hurricanes, wild fires and floods – which are increasing due to climate change – are between 20 and 50 per cent more likely to develop increased anxiety, depression, sleep disruption and even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The World Health Organisation is urging countries across the globe to include mental health support in their climate change response programmes.
This is further proof that climate change, our environment and the natural world are inextricably linked to our mental health.
Warmer weather also increases aggression.
A study from the US looking at temperatures in Los Angeles found violent crime increased by almost six per cent on days when the mercury went above 29 degrees.
Similar increases in arrests occur in the UK during hot weather.
But while adverse weather and climate change negatively impact mental health, it’s worth noting the enormous benefits of getting out into nature for our mental health – which is where things get much more positive.
Time spent outdoors in green spaces improves well being, reduces anxiety, reduces loneliness, boosts mood, improves sleep and lowers stress levels.
On almost every level and measure, time spent outdoors benefits us.
GPs are socially prescribing time outdoors too in the form of gardening clubs, walking groups and time spent in nature. Called ‘green prescribing’, studies have found it not only improves mental health but it also reduces the demand on health and social care systems.
Coined in Japan in the 1980s, shinrin-yoku or forest bathing is the practice of spending time in woods or around trees and the health benefits are plentiful too.
Studies have found it reduces the production of stress hormones, lowers heart rate and blood pressure and boosts immunity.
While there are huge mental health benefits to getting outside, there are also very real physical health benefits to nature too.
And the benefits aren’t just confined to green nature.
Blue prescribing is about getting people to connect with water spaces, whether that’s wetlands, streams, rivers, reservoirs or the sea.
There’s volumes of research on the connection between time spent in nature and improved mental and physical health and the two are very much connected.
Which is why it’s so incredibly vital we protect and access the nature that we have around us – whether that’s in our garden or local park or woods.
We want people to be able to enjoy the fruits of nature’s bounty – not be exposed to the climatic changes that negatively impact mental health.
So, whether you’ve experienced adverse mental health or not, getting out and enjoying nature can only be good for us.
Follow @ouronehome and visit onehome.org.uk for more advice.
Fact or fiction
Sea levels have risen by eight inches in the last 100 years.
Fact. Both meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets and the fact warming waters in our oceans expand mean sea levels have risen by around eight inches in the last century and this rate is increasing as the world warms.
Swap dental floss for silk floss.
While it might not be made from plastic, the coating on dental floss is typically made from Teflon or waxed nylon which means it doesn’t compost or recycle.
Research suggests it can take up to 80 years to break down.
So why not switch to silk dental floss which can be bought for around £3.