The NHS should fund partnerships with community organisations to broaden people’s connections with nature, which will help to improve their wellbeing, according to new research.
Researchers at the Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature (IWUN) project at the University of Sheffield, UK, also called for GPs and their practices to prescribe “time in nature” to improve patients’ mental health.
A briefing for healthcare professionals revealed the findings from a three-year IWUN research project that examined how urban nature supports mental wellbeing.
A study in Sheffield, led by the University of Derby, saw participants using a smartphone app to notice the good things in green or built environments.
This produced statistically significant improvements in wellbeing for adults overall and clinically significant improvements for people with a mental health difficulty.
The researchers found that the benefits were particularly significant among people who had spent less time outdoors in the past or felt less connected to nature – and where green spaces were more biodiverse.
Another part of the research, led by the University of Sheffield, found rates of depression were lower in areas where public green spaces were cleaner and residents had larger gardens.
IWUN project lead, Professor Anna Jorgensen from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Landscape Architecture, said: “IWUN has shown that the planning, design and management of parks and green spaces can have a real impact on the health and wellbeing of diverse urban populations – but we need to invest in them, and the people and organisations that activate them, to realise their full potential.
“By taking this place-based approach, NHS clinical commissioning groups and GPs can support their local communities and tackle some of the financial and service pressures they face.”
The findings have resulted in several recommendations, including: integrating nature into the ‘five ways to wellbeing’ promoted by the NHS; having clinical commissioning groups fund and evaluate green social prescriptions and healthcare organisations supporting financially community and voluntary organisations working in green spaces.
Other recommendations include ensuring new housing developments provide enough space for a family garden with room for trees and space to grow plants and vegetables and create easily accessed digital maps of green ‘wellbeing routes’.