By Gemma Gallant, Executive Director – Communities
The benefits of nature on mental health have become even more important over a year of lockdowns, so ‘nature and the environment’ as a theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is more fitting than ever.
The importance of outdoor space in promoting improved health and happiness has long been recognised, with extensive research showing a positive relationship between green space and general well-being. Over the past year in lockdown, this has been amplified with many experiencing a new-found appreciation for the outdoors and people flocking to beauty spots across the country.
People have increasingly sought relief in nature and the outdoors, with them becoming the only safe space to socialise during the pandemic. Whether you have said hello to a fellow dog walker, had a rainy picnic with friends or caught up with a member of family for a takeaway coffee over the past year, green spaces have really been celebrated over the course of the pandemic. Although mental health is a complex issue affecting everyone differently, access to quality green spaces benefits not only physical health but also has a clear, positive impact on mental health conditions such as anxiety, stress and depression.
We have also seen a shift of individual priorities as a result of the last year. Those living in flats or homes with little to no private outdoor space were impacted by the lack of open space, as opportunities to leave home became more limited. Since the pandemic, studies show that those seeking a new home prioritise access to a garden or balcony more than ever before. And with home working a proven success, people are finding they no longer need to access their city based offices every day and are moving into the countryside.
The shift in this thinking is also beginning to change how councils view new housing developments. The emphasis on improved public green spaces and bigger gardens links to the wider discussion about sustainability and biodiversity net gain. Alongside the benefits for people’s mental wellbeing, councils expect outdoor space to form an integral part of planning applications.
Humans are intrinsically linked to nature, and as the country starts to open up this summer, public open spaces such as communal gardens and SANGs will offer an all important gathering space for us to get together and celebrate getting through a really tough year.
At the moment the future is hard to visualise, but for now let’s continue making the most of the world around us and reap the rewards for our mental health in the process!