Nearly two thirds of adults in Scotland say: ‘Being close to nature improves my mood’

Mental Health Foundation Scotland calls for Green Spaces Strategy at launch of Mental Health Awareness Week

Nearly two thirds of adults in Scotland (65 per cent) said being close to nature improves their mood but one in ten (11 per cent) found it difficult to access nature when they wanted, according to a new survey into the effect of nature on mental health.

The research is announced today (10 May 2021) by the Mental Health Foundation Scotland to mark the start of its Mental Health Awareness Week which this year focuses on ‘Nature’.  The Foundation shares powerful evidence of the positive impact that engaging with nature can have on supporting good mental health.

It comes as the Foundation’s new report 'Nature:  Mental Health Awareness Week 2021’ calls on the Scottish Government to introduce a Green Spaces Strategy which will guarantee safe and accessible green spaces for all, transform Scotland’s relationship with the outdoors, and improve mental and physical health.  The strategy for Scotland would help overcome some of the barriers that prevent people being able to access nature in the way they would like.

Lee Knifton, National Director of Mental Health Foundation Scotland, said: “Connecting with nature is good for our mental health as it helps reduce feelings of worry, anxiety and stress.  In turn, it boosts positive emotions such as joy and calmness.   That’s why we’re encouraging people this Mental Health Awareness Week to connect with nature in a way that feels good to them, whether that’s going for a walk in the park, looking after a houseplant, outdoor swimming, or bagging a Munro.  The most important thing in terms of boosting our wellbeing is the quality of the experience and how we absorb the benefit by taking in the sights, sounds and scents of our surroundings. 

“Many people may assume that because we live in Scotland with a wealth of beautiful natural spaces to enjoy, that we can all get into nature when we need to.  However, this is not the case with one in ten adults in Scotland finding it difficult to access nature.  That’s why we need the Scottish Government to produce a national Green Spaces Strategy and for each local authority to produce its own local strategy to ensure that everyone can avail of the mental health benefits of connecting with nature.   This includes protecting and enhancing green spaces in urban areas, ensuring all new housing developments include high quality green space, and expanding outdoor learning opportunities for children to increase levels of wellbeing and good mental health.”

The survey indicated that a significant number of people struggled to get enough time in nature with one in ten adults in Scotland (11 per cent) saying they found it fairly or very difficult to access nature when they wanted.  Almost half (45 per cent) of adults in Scotland said that they were not connecting or feeling a close engagement with nature often enough to help their mental health.  Of those who don’t spend enough time in nature, over one third (36 per cent) want to do so more often.

Some people face significant barriers to accessing nature, including physical inaccessibility and fears of harm. In our survey, not feeling physically safe/safe from harm had hindered 22 per cent of women from enjoying nature, compared to 6 per cent of men, while 18 per cent of Scottish adults with long term health conditions or disabilities said that they had been prevented from enjoying nature due to not feeling physically safe/safe from harm.

Additionally, it was revealed that ‘in normal times’ before the pandemic, 11 per cent of adults in Scotland spent one hour or less per week in nature.  This is less than the two hours a week that research suggests significantly boosts health and wellbeing.

Findings from the survey by You Gov of 1,055 adults in Scotland[1]

Positive impacts:

  • Nearly two thirds (65 per cent) of adults in Scotland say that being close to nature improves their mood.
  • 60 per cent of adults in Scotland say being in nature has led them to experience positive emotions such as calm, wonder and joy.
  • Almost half of adults in Scotland (46 per cent) said being close to nature helps them cope with stress.
  • More than four in ten (41 per cent) of adults in Scotland say being close to nature makes them less worried or anxious.

Barriers to nature:

  • More than one in ten adults in Scotland (11 per cent) found it fairly or very difficult to access nature when they wanted to.
  • One third of adults in Scotland (32 per cent) spent less than three hours in nature per week with 11 per cent spending up to one hour or less.
  • Almost one quarter of women in Scotland (22 per cent) said that not feeling physically safe or safe from harm had hindered them from enjoying nature, compared to 6 per cent of men.
  • One quarter of people aged 18-24 (24 per cent) said that not feeling physically safe or safe from harm had hindered them from enjoying nature.
  • 18 per cent of Scottish adults with long term health conditions or disabilities said that they had been prevented from enjoying nature due to not feeling physically safe/safe from harm.

Lived experience

Similar to many others, Caroline O’Donnell, 43, from Glasgow has experienced challenging times in the last year.  As a consequence of the pandemic, the mum of three was furloughed before being made redundant.   While she has always enjoyed outdoor sports, it is only recently that she turned to outdoor swimming in local lochs.  A pastime which has allowed her to embrace nature and feel its benefits. 

Caroline said: “The last year has been tough with the pandemic, lockdowns and being made redundant.  Being out in the open water and experiencing nature in such an all-encompassing way really helps me to feel calm and feel really present in the moment.  It helps me relax, forget my worries, and just decompress.  Taking up wild swimming has also made me feel stronger and braver, giving me the confidence to set up my own business.  I’d encourage anyone to give it a try – but please remember to be safe.  You can find safety guidelines online at scottishswimming.com and NOWCA.org.”

Lee added: “We encourage everyone to get involved in Mental Health Awareness Week and experience the mental health benefits of connecting with nature.  We will be sharing information, images, films and tips all week long on our digital and social media channels and we look forward to seeing the contributions from people across Scotland and the UK.” 

The Mental Health Foundation has been running the annual Mental Health Awareness Week for 21 years.  This year people are encouraged to get involved by sharing their stories, pics and films on social media #ConnectWithNature #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek.  More information at www.mentalhealth.org.uk

ENDS

For further information and interview requests please contact Claire Fleming at Mental Health Foundation Scotland on email [email protected] or phone 07511 076 870

Notes to editors

  • [1] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1055 adults aged 18+ in Scotland. Fieldwork was undertaken between 6th - 8th April 2021.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults in Scotland (aged 18+).
  • Link to report available 10 May 2021
  • Top tips on how to engage with nature in a way that helps your mental health

About the Mental Health Foundation 

  • Our vision is of good mental health for all.
  • The Mental Health Foundation works to prevent mental health problems.
  • We drive change towards a mentally healthy society for all, and support communities, families and individuals to lead mentally healthy lives with a particular focus on those at greatest risk.
  • The Foundation is the home of Mental Health Awareness Week.
  • www.mentalhealth.org.uk