Our first nature connectedness intervention was Three Good Things in Nature, and we continue to test its effectiveness in various situations. Our latest research paper has been published in the Journal of Public Mental Health (accepted version available here). This study looked at the benefits of noticing Three Good Things in Nature during a nature based or urban walk for people living with depression and/or anxiety.
Previously, we’ve found noticing the good things in nature brings sustained and clinically significant improvements in mental health through increasing nature connectedness. However, little is known about the effect of nature connectedness on clinically relevant states including depression and anxiety. This latest research builds on previous work and provides further insight by showing the Three Good Things in Nature approach brings sustained benefits in a clinically relevant population through adapted nature walks. This further supports the use of the Three Good Things in Nature approach for green social prescribing, using the version integrated into Go Jauntly for example.
Fifty participants (30 female, 20 males with a mean age of 40 years) were randomly allocated to walking in urban environments or nature, plus noticing and writing down three good things in nature. Thirty-nine participants had a formal diagnosis of depression and/or anxiety with the rest indicating that they experienced symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Fifteen participants indicated that they were taking medication for depression and/or anxiety. Sixteen of the participants were accessing community mental health services under the care of a psychiatrist. Twenty had been discharged from mental health services but wished to access well-being support. Fourteen were accessing primary care support.
The groups participated in a 30-minute walks for five consecutive days, guided by the researcher and at least 3 volunteers/colleagues, in groups of a maximum of ten. Both conditions received the same study briefing with social interaction comparable between the two. The nature walks took place in a forest park/natural area and were slightly different each day and undertaken in lakeside, beach, mountain, forest and bog areas. The urban walks also followed different routes each day through housing estates, town centres, a town park and main roads. Measures of nature connectedness (CNS), well-being (WEMWBS), positive and negative affect (PANAS) were taken at baseline, post and six-week follow-up.
The analysis indicated a significant increase in nature connectedness and positive affect in the nature versus the urban walk at post and follow-up. The nature condition showed significantly higher wellbeing at the 6-week follow-up. The increase in nature connectedness at follow-up was 30%, compared to 4% in the urban control. The increase in wellbeing at follow-up was 42%, compared to -3% in the urban control. For positive affect there were increases at follow-up in both groups, 135% for the nature walk compared to 85% in the urban control. The larger increase in positive affect appearing to feed through to wellbeing in the nature group. However, negative affect decreased in the nature walk at post intervention but rose to be higher than the urban group at follow-up – although still below the baseline level.
In line with previous work, the results support the Three Good Things in Nature intervention as benefitting mental well-being, with this study extending the benefits of the approach to a clinically relevant population. Care is needed in clinical populations, but Three Good Things in Nature could be promoted as an intervention for those receiving treatment for low-level depression and/or anxiety, complementing existing interventions and acting in a preventative capacity. Further, the approach could be utilised to inform the development of preventative and management interventions that can improve well-being for individuals with depression and/or anxiety. As a simple and cost-effective approach, this is especially pertinent given the financial and capacity pressures associated with post-pandemic mental health provision.
Our large-scale survey work shows that nature connectedness and simply noticing nature explains wellbeing over and above time in nature. This empirical work provides evidence of a causal link. Further, added to our recent nature connectedness audio meditation, the sustained increases in nature connectedness, positive affect and wellbeing support further work into focussing on improving nature connectedness for mental (and nature’s) wellbeing.
Keenan, R., Lumber, R., Richardson, M. and Sheffield, D. (2021), “Three good things in nature: a nature-based positive psychological intervention to improve mood and well-being for depression and anxiety”, Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPMH-02-2021-0029