In recent years there has been an upsurge of interest in a holistic treatment known as ‘Ecotherapy’ or ‘Green Therapy’. This therapy, a synergy of the interests and research of psychologists, ecologists, social scientists and philosophers, has developed as a result of several research programmes which concluded that spending regular time ‘in nature’ can have a significant impact on well being, and that spending time outdoors can help to prevent the onset of depression.

While spending time in the great outdoors has long been thought to bring about mindful and meditative feelings, this latest research has shown that it also has the ability to reduce feelings of depression and, as such, can be an effective form of treatment for those people who suffer with mental health issues.

Improved Mental Health Linked to the Proximity of Green Open Spaces

In the past, research into spending time outdoors has been limited to its effect on our physical well being, with most studies linking a proximity to green open spaces with factors such as increased physical fitness, which in turn has a positive effect on depression. However, it’s now being suggested that any time spent outdoors can have a positive effect on our mental health.

Research carried out by several universities in the UK, including the University of Exeter Medical School, shows that people who reside in urban areas close to open green space are less likely to suffer from depression than urbanites who aren’t in close proximity to parks or open spaces. The research, which involved collecting data from 1,000 participants during the British Household Panel Survey, also indicates that moving from a built up area to somewhere with more green space, is likely to produce significant and long lasting improvements on mental health.

The University of Essex has also conducted similar studies, from which they reached the same conclusions. Their study showed that 71% of participants who were asked to walk ‘in nature’ experienced a significant reduction in their depression scores. In comparison, only 45% of participants who walked in urban areas saw any improvement, with 22% reporting that they felt more depressed.

Ecotherapy Projects Prove Beneficial to Sufferers of Depression

The result of this research has been taken on board by the mental health agency Mind. They see Ecotherapy as a viable way to reduce the effects of depression and believe that it will not only deliver health benefits, but that it could also have wide ranging social benefits, and deliver cost savings in comparison to traditional treatments.

(Download the MIND_Feel-better-outside-feel-better-inside-report)

In fact, they are so convinced by the results of this research that they have chosen to fund several ‘Ecominds’ projects that are aimed at encouraging people with depressive tendencies to take up ‘eco’ or green activities, such as gardening. These projects have so far proved extremely beneficial, with 69% of participants reporting an increased sense of well being.

As humans, we are not only part of nature rather than outside it, but also innately programmed to connect with nature and current research does seem to confirm its healing qualities. Connecting with nature can have a positive effect on not just your physical health, but on your mental health too. It can help to lift depression, improve your physical and mental energy and boost your enjoyment of the world, and what positive psychology exponents term feelings of ‘connectedness’ so why not get outdoors today and experience for yourself just what’s so ‘great’ about ‘the Great Outdoors’!