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Benefits And Barriers to Engaging with Nature

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Benefits And Barriers to Engaging with Nature

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Social care charity Praxis Care and researchers from Queen’s University Belfast conducted a recent qualitative study and an online survey on wellbeing and green and blue spaces.

They found that there are major differences with how people engage with green and blue spaces. The study found that open spaces can also provoke anxiety, fear and self-consciousness for some people.

  • Qualitative definition: relating to how good or bad something is.
  • Green and blue spaces: refers to vegetation and water bodies.

Praxis Care Head of Research co-authors

Paul Webb, Praxis Care Head of Research, co-authored the study. He said “Mental health problems are a considerable public health issue. It is a well-established fact that people feel better when they spend time by the sea or in the country. But there are barriers which prevent some people from getting the time needed outside.”

He went on to say that “Spending time in nature has been promoted as a way to access a range of psychological benefits leading to the development of nature-based interventions for people with severe and enduring mental health problems. Less, however, is understood about the potential benefits and efficacy of day-to-day routine access to outdoor green and blue spaces for mental health service users.”

Study Pinpoints Unique Benefits and Barriers

The positive impacts of nature are old news to some; but this peer-reviewed study pinpointed particular benefits and barriers for people with mental ill health. This was done by doing comparisons with the rest of the population. Those without mental ill health mix nature into their routines for well-known reasons such as relaxation and exercise.  

However, the reasons why those with mental ill health are likely to take advantage of its valuable benefits are not as widely acknowledged. Feelings of guilt, an attempt to ease anxiety, or even being in the company of somebody who encourages them were identified as influences and were inducements for them to spend more time outdoors.

Nevertheless, despite knowing how beneficial it can be, the study noted that self-consciousness, anxiety, and feeling that their safety is at risk were factors hindering people with mental ill health from accessing the outdoors.

“These findings give insight into motivations for an outdoor activity to help inform the design of public mental health interventions,” said Mr. Webb. “Further work is required to improve access and safety to promote the benefits of green and blue spaces for everyone.”

Co‐Produced Mixed‐Methods Exploration

Conducted among 1,791 participants, the survey was published in the open access journal Health Expectations. This research, funded by a grant from the UK Research and Innovation initiative, compared the impacts of time spent outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic for people with and without mental ill health.

The study was conducted by Praxis Care and Queen’s University Belfast, and included researchers who access Praxis Care’s mental health support. These experts contributed research skills as well as their knowledge from lived experience of mental ill health. They contributed to all elements of the project: the research idea, funding application, design, data collection, analysis, writing up and dissemination activities. This co-produced method is typical of Praxis Care’s research projects.

For further information about Praxis Care’s research programme, please contact them via the website.

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