It is no secret that we are facing a mental health crisis here in the United States. Buckle up, because this might get a little depressing – but don’t worry, Nature is once again here to save the day!
According to a recent study undertaken by Mental Health in America:
- In a 5-year period, rates of severe youth depression have increased.
- 50% of screeners age 11-17 often think about suicide or self-harm throughout the week.
- Over 76% of youth with severe depression – 1.7 million kids - did not get treatment they need.
And that’s just our kids. Adults also face steep rates of depression, much of which is caused by lack of access to proper care, other research finds.
“Mental health services in the U.S. are insufficient despite more than half of Americans (56%) seeking help,” says the National Council for Behavioral Health. “Limited options and long waits are the norm, but [there are] some bright spots with 76% of Americans now seeing mental health as important as physical health.”
That’s good news indeed. Better news, if you’re one of the enlightened who knows how important it is to seek out mental health improvement: Nature can help.
How Does Nature Impact Mental Health?
We’ve known for a few years that something as simple as taking a walk in nature can measurably improve your mental health, specifically by lowering your susceptibility to depression.
As Stanford University explains, not all exercise is created equal. While getting out and moving is beneficial no matter what, there’s a decided difference between walking in an urban setting and walking in the Great Outdoors. They summarize a study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science thusly:
“People who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.”
Specifically, the study found that walking in nature reduces rumination, which is “repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self” and is “a known risk factor for mental illness.” So, yay less rumination!
The question now becomes: How can you get some of that rumination-less-ness in your own life?
How Can You Increase Your Mental Health with Time in Nature?
At first blush, this seems like a question with an obvious answer: Spend more time outside.
But a lot of people don’t have hours on the weekend, let alone during a packed work week, to get out and hike. Ideally, you would make that time … but what if you can’t? Here are a few of our favorite ideas:
- Get a plot at a community garden. There, you can grow your own veggies and enjoy the calming effects of greenery at the same time. If possible, if you choose one in an urban location, make sure it’s next to a park or greenway.
- Head to your nearest arboretum or lakeside walk. Although the city is nearby, saving you a drive out to the country, the surrounding natural sights and sounds will make a huge difference.
- Spend some time on a green roof. Green roofs are increasingly common on municipal buildings and in office parks. If you know of one nearby, make an effort to get there. The green space, combined with the increase in skyline views, can make a huge difference in your outlook on life.
How Can You Increase Nature in Your Backyard?
Of course, it’s not always possible to book a vacation to the Sierra Nevada or a cabin on the dunes of remotest Lake Michigan. Sometimes, you have to find nature a little closer to home.
The good news is, that approach is becoming more popular and more possible every day.
For instance, green roofs. Ranging from garage rooftops to decks fifty stories in the air, these elevated environments use rugged plants and innovative landscaping techniques to create greenery on formerly bare roofing membranes and outdoor decks. Voilà: an urban escape that gives you those same mental health benefits without a 2-hour drive.
Other approaches include backyard gardens and rain gardens, or even intensive rooftop gardens – where deeper media allows plants and trees to grow right up over your head.
Do you wish you could experience the beauty and tranquility of nature right there in your home or office? You can, when you work with Ecogardens. Our team would love to tell you more about who we are and what we do, so get in touch today!