Nature is The Best Cure for Mental Health -Nadira Islam
There is no health without mental health is to important to be left to the professionals alone, and mental health is everyone’s business. Mental health is just as important as physical health. In U.S., 20.6% of adults experienced mental illness in 2019 (51.5 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults. Today, stress and mental ill-health is becoming more common, and the costs are high. The WHO (2001) estimates that depression and depression-related illness will become the greatest sources of ill-health by 2020. This is because many other activities, such as smoking, over-eating and high alcohol consumption, are coping mechanisms for depression, and have their own serious consequences. Stress is now a major problem for people living in modern societies. According to a recent survey (2021) conducted by the Bureau of Statistics in Bangladesh for the current financial year, more than 11,000 people have committed suicide while 5,200 people have died due to corona virus infection in the ongoing epidemic in the country.
Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. According to the report of the WHO, by the year 2020, unipolar depression will become the second leading cause of burden in the world and the first in developing countries, after ischemic heart disease (WHO, 2012). Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. It is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Nearly 17% of adults in Bangladesh are suffering from health issues, where 16.8% are man and 17% are women, and among them 92.3% do not seek medical attention.
There are some warning signs of mental illness are:
l Excessive paranoia, worry, or anxiety
l Long-lasting sadness or irritability.
l Extreme changes in moods.
l Social withdrawal.
l Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping pattern.
Depression is known to be a risk factor for the outcomes of a range of chronic physical illness, including asthma, arthritis, diabetes, strokes and heart disease (Hippisley-Fox et al., 1998; Turner and Kelly, 2000; Ostir et al., 2001). On the other hand, emotional well-being is known to be a strong predictor of physical health. Stress related mental disorders including depressive disorders are considered one of the biggest health problems of public concern and a leading cause of disability in the developed world and are associated with much personal suffering, significant economic cost and social problems, including their high prevalence (depression is the most common mental disorder in the general population), the weighted result, where in most cases (67%) were recurrent or chronic depression and the significant distortion of the quality of life and well-being. Also, depression relatively commonly (10% to 15% of depressed people) ends with suicide and often occurs associated with other mental disorders, physical illnesses and increased overall morbidity and mortality.
Scientists are beginning to find evidence that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behaviour, helping us to reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people. Emerson says that nature is beautiful because it is alive, moving, and reproductive. In nature we observe growth and development in living things, contrasted with the static or deteriorating state of the vast majority of that which is man-made. Exposure to nature not only makes we feel better emotionally, it contributes to our physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. Nature has been shown to be both restorative, for those recovering/suffering from mental illness (Alvarrson et al. 2010), and protective for general mental health. For example:
l Exposure to nature has been shown to evoke positive emotions, as well as strengthen individual resilience and coping skills (van den Berg 2010).
l Getting into nature has been shown to have positive impacts on concentration, learning, problem solving, critical thinking capacity, and creativity as well as enhance mental health and wellbeing through encouraging physical fitness and social engagement.
In Bangladesh, Mental health expenditures from government health department are very insignificant and are less than 0.5%. Many initiatives that explore the mental health benefits of time spent in nature remain treatment focused however. Forest therapy for example is a mental health treatment approach targeted at stress-related illness. Forest therapists are trained to expose participants to a sensory experience. The approach involves walking in nature slowly and mindfully so that all senses are engaged. Initiatives like forest therapy can easily be framed for promotional purposes as well, as you don’t have to have a stress-related illness to experience the benefits of nature immersion.
Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feeling. Spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems including anxiety and depression. There is also strong evidence that time spent in nature can improve the attention capacity of children with attention deficit disorders. Similarly, some research shows that inner-city children who grow up in public housing buildings with a view of nature have greater impulse control and are able to concentrate better and delay gratification longer. For example, research into Eco-therapy has shown it can help with mild to moderate depression.
l People living near parks and green space have less mental distress, are more physically active, and have extended life spans.
l Exposure to nature may impact human mortality from chronic disease.
l When people exercise outdoors in natural environments, they do so for longer periods of time and at greater intensities.
l Positive health effects are enhanced when green space includes the presence of water, or blue space.
Kaplan and Kaplan’s environmental psychological theory on the affect of nature on health concerns the significance of nature in reducing stress and promoting rehabilitation. Its starting point is that attention is of two types, direct attention and involuntary attention. The wealth of information in modern societies demands considerable direct attention that can be mentally exhausting, as we have fewer and fewer opportunities for rest and recuperation. Direct attention processes, sorts and rejects disturbances, such as noise. Its capacity is limited; the system can be rapidly worn-out. Involuntary attention is the antithesis in that it requires neither effort nor energy. Instead, it promotes recreation and relaxation. We use it whenever we’re outside, in nature. The purpose has been to examine the connections and challenges associated with human encounters with nature and landscape and the resultant mental affects, in terms of both general prevention and therapy. The human need for nature is linked not just to the material exploitation of the environment but also to the influence of the natural world on our emotional, cognitive, aesthetic and even spiritual development.”
Modern nature conservation entails a particular attitude toward the use of nature and its resources. That attitude is based on both ethical-ideal and utilitarian grounds. People live by nature and themselves are part of it. At the same time, we are guilty of managing it in a way that diminishes its productivity and quality that comprise the basis for all life. Nature spans a broad spectrum of values. Assessing nature in terms of human needs is called the anthropocentric (human-centred) viewpoint. The opposite viewpoint is called bio-centric, or the holistic approach that focuses on nature’s intrinsic value (autotelic value) in which humans are regarded to be part of nature, and the various species are assessed equally, regardless of their value for humans.
How does nature make us feel? Much, of course, will depend on what else is important in our lives. Is it a good day or a bad day? Irrespective of where we come from in the world, it seems that the presence of living things makes us feel good. They help us when we feel stressed, and if there is green vegetation and blue sky, and water in the scene, then we like it even more. This idea that the quality of nature in our home neighbourhood affects our mental health is not a new one, but it has not greatly affected the planning of our urban and rural environments, nor of public health priorities. It also suggests that green spaces and nearby nature should be seen as a fundamental health resource. Physical activity is now known to be a co-determinant of health. Combining exercise in the presence of nature (green exercise) thus has important public and environmental health consequences.
Nadira Islam is an Associate Editor of ‘The Environment Review’. She regularly contributes to different national and international Environmental issues.