Be Green, not Blue
Updated: Mar 31
Most modern environmental research is based on concrete data relating to the negative impacts we have on it. But how about looking at the issue from the point of view of well-being? In recent years there has been a marked increase in depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and other stress-related mental health issues and it has even got our National Health Service wondering whether a number of cases could be linked to our surroundings.
Women are highly likely to be affected by these issues and suicide remains a big killer in men under 40.
Since the creation of cities began, natural spaces have been hugely important. In fact, in ca 550 BC Persia, a crowded city, the ruler Cyrus II recognised the need for open public spaces in which his people could relax and gain a feeling of calm. It turns out this was a smart idea[*].
So when did we disconnect?
After 25 years of medical research, Dr. Qing Li released a book called Forest Bathing in April 2018. Li’s background was in environmental medicine and the study of chemicals and modern lifestyle on our immune system and when he began to publish his research on forest therapy ‘Shinrin-yoku’, heath spas, retreats and ‘wellness experts’ jumped on the idea. Even the NHS has started to prescribe nature walks for patients suffering from forms of depression and anxiety.
So why, in an industry with an estimated worth of over USD 4.5 trillion – a number more that half as large as our global heath expenditure according to the Global Wellness Institute – are we not investing in our environment?
According to the UN, 55% of the world population lives in an urban area and 74% of Europe. This figure is set to increase to 68% in 2050 and with it so will its associated illnesses.
Public Health Matters, the official blog of Public Health England affirms ‘healthy places make people feel comfortable and at ease, increasing social interaction and reducing antisocial behaviour, isolation and stress.’
It also points out that ‘healthy places are restorative, uplifting, and healing for both physical and mental health conditions.’ Interacting with nature is starting to be recognised outside of so-called holistic therapies for improving individual’s mental health states and experts now agree nature can reduce risk factors and improve general psychological well-being too.
Though this line of study is emerging (and wellness retreats are cashing in on it!), encouraging the health of an environment or ecosystem may well be in the interest of our psychological well-being as well as our physiological security.
The concept does not take into account the effects of an unhealthy natural environment and the negative impact of a contaminated green or blue space but if proven further, there could be significant socio-economic value in cleaning up the mess we’ve made.