Mental Health Monday: Nature can be part of a mental health prescription

This is part of a regular series called Mental Health Monday. Our goal is to share information about mental health trends and research, as well as suggestions for what we can do as individuals and communities to improve the mental health of ourselves and others. 


Nature can be part of a prescription for mental health

A growing body of evidence suggests that spending time in nature can be beneficial to mental health, according to a December 2023 article in Trend Magazine, published by Pew Trusts. Among the findings:

  • A 2015 study found that participants who walked in a natural setting for 90 minutes had decreased activity in the area of the brain associated with depression, compared to participants who walked in a busy urban setting.
  • Participants in a University of Michigan study who took a walk in a natural setting after completing a difficult thinking task reported being happier and said they had a better working memory than those who walked in an urban setting after completing the same task.
  • A survey during the COVID-19 pandemic found that participants who had access to nature—even from a window—reported feeling happier than those who didn’t have the same access to nature.

Mental health professionals are working now on how to put these findings into practical use, considering how they might “prescribe” nature. A nonprofit called Park Rx America has created a community of professionals who are training themselves on how to help their patients help themselves through immersion in natural settings. The challenge is helping patients figure out what “dose” of nature is appropriate for them, and that they can do with regularity, similar to setting up an exercise routine. A prescription could be, for example, “Walk along a trail near a pond, with a neighbor or friend, without earbuds, for a half-hour, every day.”

Sometimes the therapy itself can happen in nature: “Jennifer Udler, licensed clinical social worker—certified, (and) the author of Walk and Talk Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide to Incorporating Movement in Nature Into Your Practice, writes, ‘the physical act of moving forward seems to trigger a mental movement toward open-mindedness.’”

Read the full article here.


Let’s Do More:

  • If you were to write a prescription of nature for yourself, what would it be? What would it take to incorporate that dose of nature into your life regularly?
  • Is there someone in your life who could benefit from a dose of nature? How could you help that person get their nature “prescription”?

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