More than fifty per cent of the global population live in urban settings. There has also been a gradual rise in anxiety of depression during the urbanisation process. Researchers suspect the correspondence could be due to the disconnection from nature and the uptake of technology.
The World Health Organisation has categorised mental health disorders as a global pandemic. A report published in 2019 estimated 264 million people suffered from depression worldwide.
There is also a reported increase in other mental health disorders including bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, ADHD (attention deficit disorder) and autism.
In contrast, a growing number of studies have shown that nature seems to harness healing qualities. Integrating with nature reduces stress and fosters calmness.
The recent pandemic is believed to have exacerbated mental health disorder. Reported numbers have increased by as much as 42%. Spending so much time indoors has highlighted how detrimental modern lifestyles are to our health and wellbeing.
Green Versus Screen
The negative effects that technology is having on our health were evident even before the pandemic struck.
In 2011, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology linked the number of time people spent in front of a screen to increase the risk of early mortality.
A study performed by the University of Minnesota concluded: “Nature deprivation, a lack of time in the natural world, largely due to hours spent in front of TV or computer screens, has been associated, unsurprisingly, with depression.”
In contrast, people diagnosed with clinical depression said their mood improved after spending time outside. After just 90-minutes of walking in nature, they felt calmer, less stressed and less depressed.
Symptoms of depression include a lack of energy and a loss of interest in things – even interests that once brought pleasure. Low self-esteem and disturbed sleep patterns are common causes.
It’s probably not a coincidence that spending too much time on social media networks and the blue light from high-definition screens have also been linked with sleepless nights and a lack of self-esteem.
Eco-Cures For Depression
Depression not only impairs your quality of life but can cause individuals to neglect their health and wellbeing. Poor eating, lack of exercise and relinquishing everyday responsibilities are not only signs of depression but also make the feelings of emptiness deepen.
Research in ecotherapy has been found to have positive effects on mental health disorders. A leading mental health charity in the UK, mind.org confirms that spending time in nature can ease anxiety and depression considerably.
The American Psychological Association also notes:
“From a stroll through a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.”
Studies in neuroscience show how the brain lights up in areas associated with positive moods when individuals are exposed to nature. Researchers concluded that “natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanising world.”
Although the healing qualities of nature are not fully understood by medical professionals, an increasing number of physicians are prescribing patients nature therapy.
For example, wilderness therapy programs use nature to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Exploring the great outdoors fosters mindfulness and connection with your inner world.
Exercise also boosts endorphins – the body’s natural feel-good chemical. A daily shot elicits sensations of satisfaction and pleasure which helps patients to overcome feelings of anxiety and depression.
Coaxing Kids into Nature
Children and young adults should not be excluded from integrating with nature either. Reports show an increasing number of cases of depression and suicide among teenagers.
Nature walks are probably not high on the list of things to do for teenagers. However, there are plenty of exciting adventures that will encourage them to break free from the screen for a day; whitewater rafting, abseiling and zip-lining immediately spring to mind.
On the other hand, integrating with nature is free. For cash strapped students it’s a cost-friendly means of spending time with friends, getting some exercise and nurturing their personal wellbeing.
Parents with young children might want to consider creating games and exercises that are fun, engaging and educational for children. There are a lot of ways to make nature walks exciting for kids.
If you or any members of your family are feeling down in the dumps, Mother Nature could provide a natural cure – and unlike anti-depressants, nature has zero negative side effects. Only positives.