Giving Compass' Take:

• A paper from the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences explains why city planners should incorporate more green spaces to help curb mental illness.

• How can you invest in more green space in your community? How does green space in urban places contribute to positive community development?

• Learn more about green spaces and their health benefits. 

Almost one in five adults in the US lives with a mental illness. That statistic is similar worldwide, with an estimated 450 million people currently dealing with a mental or neurological disorder. Of those, only about a third seek treatment.

Experts are starting to recognize interacting with nature as one way to improve mental health. A number of scientific studies have shown that nature experiences may benefit people’s psychological well-being and cognitive function. But it has been difficult to find ways to quantify these benefits in a useful manner for cities or organizations that want to integrate nature to improve mental health.

“Thinking about the direct mental health benefits that nature contact provides is important to take into account when planning how to conserve nature and integrate it into our cities,” says Greg Bratman, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and lead author of the paper in Science Advances. “The purpose of this paper is to provide a conceptual model of one way we can start to think about doing this.”

The study outlines how city planners, landscape architects, developers, and others could eventually anticipate the mental health impacts of decisions related to the environment.

The researchers built a conceptual model that can help make meaningful, informed decisions about environmental projects and how they may impact mental health.

It includes four steps for planners to consider:

  1. Elements of nature included in a project, say at a school or across the whole city;
  2. amount of contact people will have with nature;
  3. how people interact with nature;
  4. and how people may benefit from those interactions, based on the latest scientific evidence.

The researchers hope the tool will be especially useful in considering the possible mental health repercussions of adding—or taking away—nature in underserved communities.

Read the full article about mental health by Michelle Ma at Futurity.