Nature volunteering recommended as treatment for mental health disorders

People with low wellbeing scores feel “healthier and happier” when connected to wildlife and nature, a major new study has revealed.

The finding forms part of new research undertaken for The Wildlife Trusts.

Led by the Leeds Beckett University, the study looked into the social value of nature conservation projects to people suffering from common mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

People who scored low on personal wellbeing tests were “prescribed” outdoor volunteering opportunities to help with local conservation programmes. The researchers then compared their wellbeing scores before and after taking part in outdoor activities.

They found that people participating in the volunteering projects felt “significantly better”, both emotionally and physically.

Participants also reported making fewer mental health-related GP visits and felt more able to get back into work.

Commenting on the study, Dom Higgins, Nature and Wellbeing Manager at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Evidence shows that nature volunteering or taking part in a more specialised health and nature project really works. People who have low levels of wellbeing feel healthier and happier when they’re connected to wildlife and wild places.

“This new report shows the enormous value of a natural health service. It’s also important to have more investment in Wildlife Trust outdoor volunteering which has been proven to improve mental, physical and social wellbeing.”

The report authors added that prescribing outdoor activities could also save nearly £7 for every £1 invested in outdoor activities.

“Prescribing nature works – and saves money. A natural, community-based approach to health offers an important non-medical service that will deliver health prevention at scale and reduce the current burden on the NHS,” said the researchers.

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