The more diverse nature, the better it is for mental health

A new study from King’s College London has revealed that spaces with a wide range of natural features are linked to greater improvements in mental wellbeing compared to spaces with less natural diversity. The study, published in Scientific Reports and funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and Wellcome, used a smartphone application called Urban Mind to gather real-time data on mental wellbeing and natural diversity from nearly 2,000 participants.

The researchers discovered that environments with a greater number of natural features, such as trees, birds, plants, and waterways, were associated with better mental wellbeing than environments with fewer features. Remarkably, these benefits can last for up to eight hours. The study also found that nearly a quarter of the positive impact of nature on mental health could be attributed to the diversity of features present.

Implications for Urban Planning and Public Health

Lead author Ryan Hammoud, a Research Assistant at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, emphasized the importance of protecting and promoting natural diversity to maximize the benefits of nature for mental wellbeing. “In practice, this means moving away from heavily curated monocultural pockets and parks of mown grass, which are typically associated with low biodiversity, towards spaces which mirror the biodiversity of natural ecosystems. By showing how natural diversity boosts our mental wellbeing, we provide a compelling basis for how to create greener and healthier urban spaces,” Hammoud said.

The findings highlight the importance of policies and practices that support the richness of nature and species, as they benefit both the environment and public mental health. The study provides a strong foundation for creating greener and healthier urban spaces that promote mental wellbeing.

The Urban Mind Project and Biodiversity

The study was conducted between April 2018 and September 2023, with 1,998 participants completing over 41,000 assessments using the Urban Mind app. The app was developed by King’s College London, landscape architects J&L Gibbons, and arts foundation Nomad Projects. The Urban Mind project is funded by a Wellcome Climate Impacts Award to Professor Andrea Mechelli, the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre, and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration South London.

Senior author Andrea Mechelli, Professor of Early Intervention in Mental Health at the IoPPN, emphasized the importance of biodiversity in the context of climate change. “In the context of climate change, we are witnessing a rapid decline in biodiversity in the UK as well as globally. Our results suggest that biodiversity is critical not only for the health of our natural environments but also for the mental wellbeing of the people who live in these environments. It is time to recognise that biodiversity brings co-benefits for planetary and human health and needs to be considered vital infrastructure within our cities,” Mechelli said.

The study’s findings underscore the need to protect and promote biodiversity, not only for the health of our natural environments but also for the mental wellbeing of the people who live in these environments. As we face the challenges of climate change, it is crucial to recognize that biodiversity is essential for both planetary and human health and should be considered a vital component of our urban infrastructure.

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