The aim of the study was to examine whether people who maintained direct or indirect contact with outdoor spaces coped better with lockdown measures and felt fewer symptoms of poor mental health.
To do this a team from Norway, Spain and Exeter questioned 6,000 people, mainly from Spain – which had some of the strictest measures – as well as the UK and Germany.
Researchers found people perceived that nature helped them to cope with lockdown, and emotions were more positive among those with accessible outdoor spaces and blue-green elements in their views.
When access to public outdoor spaces was significantly restricted, people with their own gardens or balconies and those with mixed or natural views showed lower symptoms of anxiety and depression than those who had no access to outdoor spaces and limited or urban views.
People’s perceptions of how nature was helping them cope was found to be more positive among those with a garden than those with a balcony or access to public outdoor spaces.
Our results showed the clear negative effect of severe confinement on mental healthReport authors
Researchers noted: ‘Our results showed the clear negative effect of severe confinement on mental health, with people who had restricted access to outdoor public spaces more likely to show symptoms of mental health disorders than people who had partial or no restriction to access to outdoor spaces.
‘We found that the lockdown measures adopted led to negative consequences in people’s mental health, with clear differences across the levels of lockdown. Therefore, future measures should be designed to protect individuals from the disease and from the mental and physical consequences of social isolation and stay-at-home orders.’
The research team suggest that if different degrees of lockdown do not result in clear differences in reducing infection rates, then less strict regimes should be considered to control the disease and cut mental health problems.
‘However, if epidemiologic studies confirm that the spread of the disease is only avoidable under strict lockdown, we recommend health authorities be ready for a higher prevalence of mental health disorders, especially focusing on vulnerable subgroups such as women, young people or people with no contact with nature,’ they added.
Looking to a post-coronavirus world, the study recommends that future urban planning results in homes that are more healthy places so people can be more resilient to the consequences of future pandemics.