Nature Walks for Severe Mental Illness

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Many people experience improvements in their mood or feelings of well-being by spending time in nature. The evidence for nature’s psychological benefits is growing and fairly strong at this time.

However, the effects of nature for people with severe mental illness isn’t as clear. A recent study from Scotland starts to address this gap.

In this study, “Co-production of nature walks“, published in the journal BMC Public Health, researchers developed a walking program to help people with mental illness after leaving hospital.

The program introduces people to the walking program before leaving hospital. Participants are then paired with a trained community walk leader who leads weekly walks with participants.

It contains five components linked to improved mental health:

  • Connect – having people join a walking group to connect people together socially before and after the walks
  • Be Active – walking for 60 minutes
  • Take notice – observing nature while walking with the assistance of a community volunteer walk leader who is familiar with nature
  • Keep learning – learn about nature from walk leader
  • Give – support each other during walks

Materials and strategies to help with possible road blocks to participation, such as access to transportation, and ways to overcome these barriers are included.

There are several walking programs for people with health conditions in Scotland available at Paths for All initiative (all are currently paused due to COVID).

This program has yet to be tested so it’s too early to tell how well it works. However, it is a great example of how nature could be used to help people with mental health problems.

Hopefully the results of this study will provide more information about how nature can help people improve their mental health.

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