Where Does Nature Fit in Improving Mental Health?

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Can nature really cure us? was recently published in the Guardian about the growth of books on health and nature.

I will be posting later this week on Nature Brain about the scientific evidence for nature improving wellbeing and mental health.

The Guardian article provides a balanced view of the potential psychological benefits – and limitations – of nature. A number of books have recently been published on this topic – most recently Losing Eden by Lucy Jones, and The Natural Health Service by Isabel Hardman who was interviewed by the Guardian.

It is important to distinguish between self-help and improving wellbeing and treating mental illness (see my earlier post for my take on this).

My upcoming post will show that evidence for nature in improving wellbeing (increasing personal happiness or pleasure) is fairly strong. Nature is also largely free from side-effects.

However, this article also brings up some challenges with nature, particularly in a world where nature is under threat.

It is important to recognize that nature can be beneficial for most people. Similar to physical exercise most people do not spend enough time in nature. Nature is but one of many strategies (including exercise and meditation) that most people can use to improve their wellbeing.

At the same time, for people affected by mental health conditions such as major depression or anxiety, contact with nature may help. However, for many people affected by these disorders, time in nature will need to be combined with psychotherapy or medications.

There is an important role for nature in improving health. We still much to learn about the best fit for nature in improving our mental health.

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