News Detail

Peter Kahn was one of the co-authors featured in this UW News article on the impact of nature on mental health. It was based on a new study that was published in Science Advances.

How to consider nature’s impact on mental health in city plans

Michelle Ma, UW News

Almost one in five adults in the U.S. lives with a mental illness. That statistic is similar worldwide, with an estimated 450 million people currently dealing with a mental or neurological disorder. Of those, only about a third seek treatment.

Interacting with nature is starting to be recognized as one way to improve mental health. A number of scientific studies have shown that nature experiences may benefit people’s psychological well-being and cognitive function. But it has been difficult to find ways to quantify these benefits in a useful manner for cities or organizations that want to integrate nature to improve mental health.

two children in park

Now, an international team led by the University of Washington and Stanford University has created a framework for how city planners and municipalities around the world can start to measure the mental health benefits of nature and incorporate those into plans and policies for cities and their residents. The study was published July 24 in Science Advances.

“Thinking about the direct mental health benefits that nature contact provides is important to take into account when planning how to conserve nature and integrate it into our cities,” said Greg Bratman, lead author and an assistant professor at the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “The purpose of this paper is to provide a conceptual model of one way we can start to think about doing this.”

The study brought together more than two dozen leading experts in the natural, social and health sciences who study aspects of how nature can benefit human well-being. Their first step was to establish a baseline, collective agreement regarding the understanding of the impacts of nature experience on aspects of cognitive functioning, emotional well-being and other dimensions of mental health.

“In hundreds of studies, nature experience is associated with increased happiness, social engagement, and manageability of life tasks, and decreased mental distress,” said senior author Gretchen Daily, faculty director at the Stanford Natural Capital Project. “In addition, nature experience is linked to improved cognitive functioning, memory and attention, imagination and creativity, and children’s school performance. These links span many dimensions of human experience, and include a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life.”...

... “If the evidence shows that nature contact helps to buffer against negative impacts from other environmental predictors of health, then access to these landscapes can be considered a matter of environmental justice. We hope this framework will contribute to this discussion,” Bratman said. “Eventually, it could be developed and potentially used to help address health disparities in underserved communities.”

Other University of Washington co-authors are Howard FrumkinPeter KahnJoshua Lawlerand Phillip Levin. Other Stanford University co-authors are James GrossChristopher Anderson and Jeffrey Smith. See the paper for a full list of co-authors.

Read the entire article here.