COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of outdoor and nature settings as a mental health asset, whilst also revealing stark issues around equitable access to outdoor environments and sustainability.
A successful bid by a national research group led by LJMU looks to better equip different sectors in using natural environments for this purpose over the coming decade.
Granted £50,000 by the UKRI-established MARCH Network, the project unites academics and practitioners and is co-led by Principal Investigator Dr Kaye Richards, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at LJMU and Outdoor Professional.
“The natural environment and getting outdoors, whether that be for a walk locally, or a hike up a mountain, has a huge role to play in our mental health and physical activity. However, interventions for mental health conditions in outdoor environments, isn't simply just a walk in the park as it were ” explained Kaye.
“The aim of this project is the development of Sustainability Indicators for the effective and equitable use of outdoor natural environments in the treatment of mental health problems in a time of COVID recovery and beyond.”
Using case-studies, interviews, and consultations, with stakeholders and recipients involved in well-being, mental health, and therapy projects in a range of outdoor settings, the project seeks to explore the key factors necessary for sustainable practices, and the barriers that endanger it.
Added Kaye: “Whilst there is a clear and growing evidence base of the mental health benefits of outdoor natural environments and activities outdoors, questions of accessibility, utilisation, suitability, and capacity of outdoor nature-based mental health assets still remains incoherent.”
Findings will be disseminated via webinars and to diverse stakeholder networks, including outdoor professionals, counsellors and psychotherapists, national and local nature partnerships, green and social prescribing networks, psychologists, GP networks, and mental health charities.
Partners include the Universities of Exeter, (Project Lead), Northumbria and Cumbria, the Institute for Outdoor Learning, the Venture Trust and Dose of Nature.