So-called “green prescriptions” may end up being counterproductive for people with mental health conditions, researchers say.
Spending time in nature is believed to benefit mental health, so some doctors are beginning to “prescribe” outdoor time for their patients.
That led researchers to investigate whether being in nature helps actually does help people with issues such as anxiety and depression. They collected data from more than 18,000 people in 18 countries.
The takeaway: Time in nature does provide several benefits for people with mental health conditions, but only if they choose on their own to visit green spaces.
While being advised to spend time outdoors can encourage such activity, it can also undermine the potential emotional benefits, according to the authors of the study published Nov. 6 in the journal Scientific Reports.
The researchers said they were surprised to find that people with depression were spending time in nature as often as folks with no mental health issues, and that people with anxiety were doing so much more often.
While in nature, those with depression and anxiety tended to feel happy and reported low anxiety. But those benefits appeared to be undermined when the visits were done at others’ urging, the investigators found.
The more external pressure people with depression and anxiety felt to visit nature, the less motivated they were to do so and the more anxious they felt.
“These findings are consistent with wider research that suggests that urban natural environments provide spaces for people to relax and recover from stress,” said study leader Michelle Tester-Jones, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.
But the findings also show that health care practitioners and loved ones should be sensitive about recommending time in nature for people who have mental health issues.
“It could be helpful to encourage them to spend more time in places that people already enjoy visiting, so they feel comfortable and can make the most of the experience,” Tester-Jones said in a university news release.
For more on the benefits of green spaces, go to the National Recreation and Park Association.