‘Almost two thirds’ of people say nature improves mental health

Research also found that almost half of adults in Scotland said they were not connecting with nature often enough.

‘Almost two thirds’ of people say nature improves mental health lucentius via iStock
Nature: Loch Quoich in the Western Highlands of Scotland.

Nearly two thirds of adults in Scotland said being close to nature improves their mood but one in ten found it difficult to access it, according to a new survey.

The research for Mental Health Foundation Scotland also found that almost half of adults in Scotland said that they were not connecting or feeling a close engagement with nature often enough to help their mental health.

The Foundation announced the research on Monday to mark the start of its Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year focuses on nature.

It has released a new report, “Nature: Mental Health Awareness Week 2021”, which calls on the Scottish Government to introduce a Green Spaces Strategy to guarantee safe and accessible green spaces for all, transform Scotland’s relationship with the outdoors and improve mental and physical health.

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Lee Knifton, national director of Mental Health Foundation Scotland, said: “Connecting with nature is good for our mental health as it helps reduce feelings of worry, anxiety and stress. In turn, it boosts positive emotions such as joy and calmness.

“That’s why we’re encouraging people this Mental Health Awareness Week to connect with nature in a way that feels good to them, whether that’s going for a walk in the park, looking after a houseplant, outdoor swimming, or bagging a Munro.

“The most important thing in terms of boosting our wellbeing is the quality of the experience and how we absorb the benefit by taking in the sights, sounds and scents of our surroundings.

“Many people may assume that because we live in Scotland with a wealth of beautiful natural spaces to enjoy, that we can all get into nature when we need to.

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“However, this is not the case with one in ten adults in Scotland finding it difficult to access nature.

“That’s why we need the Scottish Government to produce a national Green Spaces Strategy and for each local authority to produce its own local strategy to ensure that everyone can avail of the mental health benefits of connecting with nature.

“This includes protecting and enhancing green spaces in urban areas, ensuring all new housing developments include high quality green space, and expanding outdoor learning opportunities for children to increase levels of wellbeing and good mental health.”

The survey found that 65% of adults in Scotland say that being close to nature improves their mood and 60% say being in nature has led them to experience positive emotions such as calm, wonder and joy.

However more than one in ten adults in Scotland found it fairly or very difficult to access nature when they wanted to and almost one third of them spent less than three hours in nature per week with 11% spending up to one hour or less.

Almost one quarter of women in Scotland said that not feeling physically safe had hindered them from enjoying nature, compared to 6% of men.

The survey of 1055 adults in Scotland was carried out by YouGov between April 6 and 8.

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: “In previous statements, the Scottish Government has recognised the many benefits of contact with nature and exercise outdoors for physical and mental health and wellbeing, and supported efforts to help people experience these.

“Reflecting the importance of the fundamental relationship between physical and mental health, the Covid-19: Mental Health Transition and Recovery Plan, published in October 2020, includes action to build on the positive sport and physical activity behaviour changes we have seen during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Caroline O’Donnell, 43, a mother-of-three from Glasgow, said she has discovered that wild swimming in local lochs has helped her mental health.

She said: “The last year has been tough with the pandemic, lockdowns and being made redundant. Being out in the open water and experiencing nature in such an all-encompassing way really helps me to feel calm and feel really present in the moment.

“It helps me relax, forget my worries, and just decompress.”