Mental health and the great outdoors

The power of nature to ‘heal the mind and body’ is increasingly accepted across society.

But how authorities, charities, schools and other organisations harness that power is not so clear.

A new guide, co-authored by Dr Kaye Richards, of the Green Spaces Research Group in LJMU’s Institute for Health Research set out guidelines for using outdoor and nature settings as a mental health asset and how to do so sustainably over time.

It follows a successful bid led by LJMU for £50,000 from the UKRI Mental Health Research Network and unites academics and practitioners from the Institute for Outdoor Learning and the University of Exeter.

Kay, a senior lecturer in psychology and certified Outdoor Professional, said: “Getting into nature, 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.” 

“We present Sustainability Indicators for the effective and equitable use of outdoor natural environments in the treatment of mental health problems."

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 explored 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.”

The Six P Sustainability Framework is intended for organisations utilising Nature for Mental Health. It provides a structure and a self-assessment tool. The indicators offered in the tool can be used to review and self-assess sustainability in relation to continued impact of stated and desired programme and participant impacts and outcomes.


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