‘Nature prescriptions’ improve mental health and ease NHS burden, report finds
Prescribing contact with nature to people with poor mental health would improve their wellbeing and ease the burden on the NHS, new research has found.
People experiencing problems, such as anxiety, stress and depression, reported feeling significantly better, both emotionally and physically, after taking part in outdoor nature conservation projects, according to research carried out for The Wildlife Trusts.
Such activities were also found to have a significant social value and save money – with a return of nearly £7 for every £1 invested in the projects, the new report by Leeds Beckett University found.
In a summary of the research, which was also carried out by researchers at the University of Essex, The Wildlife Trusts said: “Prescribing nature works – and saves money.
“A natural, community-based approach to health offers an important non-medical service that will deliver health prevention at scale and reduce the current burden on the NHS.”
The report – Social return on investment analysis of the health and wellbeing impacts of Wildlife Trust programmes – found for every £1 invested in specialised health or social needs projects that connect people to nature, there is a £6.88 social return.
It also calculated there is an £8.50 social return for every £1 invested in regular nature volunteering projects, which help create healthy lifestyles by tackling problems such as physical inactivity or loneliness.
The report has led to calls for more investment so that nature-based services can become more widespread.
Dom Higgins, nature and wellbeing manager at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “We want to see the concept of nature on prescription becoming a core part of the NHS mental well-being programmes.
“This new report shows the enormous value of a natural health service. It’s also important to have more investment in Wildlife Trust outdoor volunteering which has been proven to improve mental, physical and social wellbeing.
“In addition, we need many more wild, natural places near to where people live and work. That way, green prescribing can be rolled-out everywhere.
“This would help the NHS save money, as well as help nature to recover.”
Anne-Marie Bagnall, professor of health and wellbeing evidence at Leeds Beckett University, said: “The significant return on investment of conservation activities in nature means that they should be encouraged as part of psychological wellbeing interventions.”
Dr Amir Khan, a GP and health ambassador for The Wildlife Trusts, added: “There is a clear need to invest in nature-based services so that more people can benefit.
“If more people could access nature programmes, I believe that we would see a knock-on effect in our GP surgeries, with fewer people attending for help with preventable or social problems arising from being cut off from others, not getting active or having a purpose.”
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