Mental Wellbeing: an unsung ecosystem service

A blog post by Conservationist Matthew, written Friday 18th February 2022

Ecosystem services are any positive benefits that wildlife or ecosystems bring to humankind. Widely recognised services include water provision, flood prevention and pollination. However, one ecosystem service we have historically neglected to acknowledge is the contribution of healthy ecosystems to our mental wellbeing. There is a growing body of research evidencing the mental health benefits of ecosystems all around the world. Rapidly increasing urbanization and urban living warrant greater research and implementation of urban green ecosystems.

Ward Thompson et al. (2012) identify three main pathways that the natural environment provides that contribute to mental health benefits: i) directly through the restorative effect of nature; and then in two indirect ways, ii) through providing opportunities for positive social contact; and iii) through providing opportunities for physical activity.

Implications from research are that gardens and nature in hospitals enhance mood, reduce stress, and improve the overall appreciation of the health care provider and quality of care (Cooper Marcus and Barnes, 1999). The design of landscaped grounds is also of great importance to elderly residents in retirement communities (Chalfont and Rodiek, 2005; Chalfont, 2007). The incorporation of natural elements within the setting enhances psychological, social, and physical wellbeing among residents and almost all people living in retirement communities say windows facing green landscapes contribute to wellbeing (Pretty et al., 2003).

We see first-hand the mental wellbeing ecosystem benefit through work we do to bring wildlife into gardens in Aberdeen. Our clients regularly share their nature spots and remind us of their glee. Even though it is experienced through a window they feel more in touch with the natural world, deriving an important sense of wellbeing from this.

Mental illness constitutes a sizeable proportion of suffering worldwide. One of the greatest solutions to this epidemic could be just outside the window of those lucky enough to have a garden or a short walk for those living in flats. Surrounding ourselves with high quality green space has so much to offer!

References:

Chalfont, G. (2007) Design for Nature in Dementia Care. Jessica Kingsley: London.

Chalfont, G. and Rodiek, S. (2005) Building Edge: An Ecological Approach to Research and Design of Environments for People With Dementia. Alzheimer’s Care Quarterly 6(4):341–348.

Cooper-Marcus, C. and Barnes, M. (1999) Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Pretty, J., Griffin, M., Sellens, M.H. and Pretty, C. (2003) Green Exercise: Complementary Roles of Nature, Exercise and Diet in Physical and Emotional Wellbeing and Implications for Public Health Policy. CES Occasional Paper 2003-1. Colchester: University of Essex.

Ward- Thompson, C., Roe, J., Aspinall, P., Mitchell, R., Clowd, A. and Miller, D. (2012) More green space is linked to less stress in deprived communities: Evidence from salivary cortisol patterns. Landscape and Urban Planning 105, 221–229.

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