Experiences of nature: mental health disorders

Available on 6 November 2020

This research published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests that giving people with existing mental health conditions formal ‘green prescriptions’, may undermine some of nature’s mental health benefits.

Using BlueHealth International Survey data from more than 18,000 people in 18 different countries, the research team investigated why people feel motivated to spend time in nature, how often they visit, and how social pressure influences their emotional experiences during visits.

Taking self-reported doctor-prescribed medication for depression and/or anxiety as an indicator of having a Common Mental Health Disorder (CMD), the authors’ analyses revealed that nature is associated with a number of benefits for people with mental health issues, but only if they chose to visit nature themselves.

The research team were surprised to find that people with depression visited nature as frequently as people with no mental health issues, while people with anxiety were visiting significantly more often. On the whole, both groups also tended to feel happy and reported low anxiety during these visits.

Most individuals with a CMD reported visiting nature more than once a week. Although perceived social pressure to visit nature was associated with higher visit likelihood, it was also associated with lower intrinsic motivation, lower visit happiness and higher visit anxiety.

The study’s full title is “Experiences of nature for people with common mental health disorders: Results from an 18 country cross-sectional study”, and is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Read the full report here.

Funding and collaboration

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 666773. Data collection in California was supported by the Center for Conservation Biology, Stanford University. Data collection in Canada was supported by the Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia. Data collection in Finland was supported by the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). Data collection in Australia was supported by Griffith University and the University of the Sunshine Coast. Data collection in Portugal was supported by ISCTE—University Institute of Lisbon. Data collection in Ireland was supported by the Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland. Data collection in Hong Kong was supported by an internal University of Exeter—Chinese University of Hong Kong international collaboration fund.

Full citation

Tester-Jones, M., White, M.P., Elliott, L.R., Weinstein, N., Grellier, J., Economou, T., Bratman G.N,. Cleary, A,. Gascon, M., Korpela, K., Nieuwenhuijsen, M., O’Connor, A., Ojala, A., van den Bosch, M.A & Fleming, L.E., (2020). Results from an 18 country cross-sectional study examining experiences of nature for people with common mental health disorders. Scientific Reports 10, 19408 (2020). doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-75825-9.