Cover: A scoping study on the link between exposure to or interaction with the natural environment and mental health outcomes

A scoping study on the link between exposure to or interaction with the natural environment and mental health outcomes

Published May 20, 2019

by Amelia Harshfield, Catriona Manville, Natasha L. Elmore, Pamina Smith, Daniela Rodriguez-Rincon, Courtney Hood, Daniel Gehrt

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Research Question

  1. Is there an association between exposure to or interaction with the natural environment and mental health outcomes?

RAND Europe has been commissioned by The VELUX Group to conduct a brief scoping study of recent academic literature regarding the impact that exposure to nature has on mental health.

The aim was to identify, analyse and synthesise available scientific literature related to the following research question: 'Is there an association between exposure to or interaction with the natural environment and mental health outcomes?' A scoping review of reviews was used.

Findings are categorised into four overarching themes: 1) the general population: positive impacts are mostly self-reported, and weighing this against the weak quantitative evidence, results were not strong enough to make conclusive statements; 2) those with an illness: there is a trend of improved mental health and wellbeing for patients receiving nature-related therapy, however the evidence base remains too weak to make definitive judgements; 3) children and adolescents: over half of the papers in one review identified positive relationships between nature and mental health; and 4) the impact of environment on mental health: in one systematic review focusing on the urban environment a positive association between nature and improved perceived restorative value was reported by the majority of included studies.

While the topic area is expanding, the evidence base is currently still in its infancy and therefore weak. Owing to the heterogeneity of the studies, it is not possible to amalgamate the findings into a definitive conclusion. However, there is emerging evidence suggestive of a positive association between nature and mental health.

Key Findings

  • The body of scientific literature relating to this area has been rapidly growing, from around 100 articles published per year in the 1990s, to almost 1,700 articles published in 2018. Despite this, the research area is still in its infancy and the overall evidence base needs to be strengthened.
  • Owing to the diversity of types of interventions described, definitions of nature applied, the populations assessed and tools and methods used in the literature, it is not currently possible to amalgamate the findings into any one overarching conclusion.
  • The study highlights some emerging evidence of the positive association between being in a natural environment or engaging with nature-based interventions on the one hand, and improvement in mental health on the other.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was commissioned by The VELUX Group and conducted by RAND Europe.

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