Study: Nature has significant effects on people's mental health
Spending time in nature to improve our mental health is promoted in self-help books, blogs, and even on some of the most reputable medical websites. However, as with so much data, our understanding of nature's role in human well-being is imperfect. According to a new study published in the journal Current Research in Environmental Sustainability last week, 95% of peer-reviewed studies on nature and mental health benefits published between 2010 and 2020 occurred in high-income countries throughout North America, Europe, and East Asia. Research from the Global South was almost non-existent, with only 4% of the research conducted in medium-income countries and none in low-income ones. Furthermore, ethnicity was not reported in 62% of the research. Rachelle Gould, a professor at the University of Vermont's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and one of the authors of the new report, says, "We weren't terribly surprised, to be honest. This was something we had anticipated."
The bias in mental health research is noticeable because the majority of people reside in places that aren't in the Western Hemisphere, are formally educated, industrialised, wealthy, democratic, or WEIRD zones. Nonetheless, a large number of general conclusions are based on data acquired from these places' residents. When it comes to our interactions with nature, the cultures that surround us have a significant role. It's crucial to understand how nature affects us in intangible ways, according to Gould. Some of it is definitely universal, while some of it may be culturally particular. Differences in culture might be as simple as how we see nature. People in Western cultures may connect nature with woods or parks. Others, such as lead study author Carlos Andres Gallegos-Riofro, see the link in a different light. Gallegos-Riofro is an Ecuadorian whose perspective of nature includes the Andes' high-altitude meadows, which provide water to millions of people. However, his region's landscape is extraordinarily unique. Desert landscapes may be regarded as "natural" in other regions of the world, in contrast to the greenery that is often considered "natural." Gallegos-Riofro explains that it is always woodland and parks. It's yet another indication of how important Western culture is in this type of job.
Furthermore, our perceptions of nature to ourselves are heavily influenced by our upbringing. While most people enjoy a stroll around the park, other cultures, particularly non-Western civilizations, have a familial bond with nature, as Gould points out. Nature may be more than a physical element of the world for Indigenous peoples: it is kinfolk, and frequently a profound experience, she says. When I work with Indigenous peoples, I witness what people call Pachamama, or Mother Nature, in my everyday life, says Gallegos-Riofro. Ecuadoreans are referring to something absolutely necessary for their survival. Everything, including people, is a part of Pachamama. Pachamama is your farm. Your entire region is Pachamama. This finding is extremely important in the context of climate change, which is already wreaking havoc on people of colour and developing countries. Climate anxiety is a growing subject that studies how people react to environmental degradation, and it's critical to understand how different cultural elements play into the fear. According to Gould, the discipline of research has mostly been a white phenomenon.
According to Gallegos-Riofro, environmental damage can elicit very varied reactions among different cultural groups. He worked with an Indigenous population who had to be displaced due to a volcanic explosion and discovered that they were sad since they couldn't stay with the land, even when it was in its latter stages of livability. They answered, "No, I'd rather die here than go, ", particularly the elders. These animals, these spaces are all mine. I don't know how I'm going to leave them. says he It was terrible and heartbreaking. These aspects of nature and well-being studies are not being captured, but they must be. Our relationship with the environment isn't static, according to Gould, and it's critical to understand how various people feel and react to their own natural settings, especially in times when the climate is fast changing. While most people find the destruction of a landscape depressing, those who have lived there for centuries may experience a whole new level of sorrow.
Part of it stems from the realisation that, sure, nature is extremely beneficial to our mental health. But it hurts when the environment is deteriorated, as it is with climate change, according to Gould. I believe that comprehending the diversity and variance in that pain is just as vital as comprehending the diversity and variation in the benefits that nature provides.