The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 is Nature. It is a timely opportunity to reflect on the connections between mental health and the environment. The Mental Health Foundation’s research on mental health in the pandemic reported that 45% of us felt access to green spaces were vital for our mental health over the last year. In parallel to nature’s support for our mental health we also know that climate anxiety is rising, particularly among young people. Funders should be aware, however, that the interlinkages between mental health and the environment run much deeper and are more complex than climate anxiety or a mood lifting walk in the park.

It is widely documented that mental health is affected by a complex interplay of genetic, psychological, social / lifestyle factors, and environmental exposures. In recent years evidence of the environmental determinants of mental health has grown, yet these emerging concerns are often under the radar in the third sector.

Air pollution has been linked to schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Even small increases in air pollution are linked to rises in more common mental health issues such as depression. For example, one study reported that an incremental increase in NO2 heightened the risk of common mental disorders by 39%. .

The problems philanthropy seeks to support are messy and complicated. In many areas single-issue solutions are increasingly rare as funders and charities recognise the need for more holistic approaches that take account of complexity. The environmental determinants of mental health, as well as physical health, hold an abundance of opportunities for funders and their partners to identify and implement win-win solutions to both challenges. Both health and environmental funders have a key role to play in increasing the focus on and funding for the environmental determinants of health, including our mental health.

Read the full article about environmental determinants of health by Liz Gadd at Environmental Funders Network.