Gardening as an occupation planting
The importance of gardening and other nature-based interventions (NBIs) in addressing a post-pandemic surge in demand for mental health support has been underlined by new research.

Over the last 10 years, the social and economic cost of mental ill health has risen to £119 billion a year in England.

Covid has exacerbated mental health problems. During the first quarter of 2021, one in five adults experienced some form of depression, a rate that is double the one before the pandemic, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Forecasts say new or additional mental health support will be needed by 10 million people, with 3 million of them not previously having any mental health problems

Recognising that traditional health service approaches are unlikely to meet this need and that alternatives will be required, academics from Yorkshire and Oxford undertook a review and meta-analysis of 50 outdoor NBI studies to assess which were most successful.

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They concluded that NBIs improve mental health across all parts of the population, from healthy adults to older people with long-term health conditions and people with common mental health problems.

Such programmes were not only therapeutically effective in helping to manage existing mental health problems, but also had a positive preventative value in keeping people well.

'Best dose'

The largest and most consistent effects were seen when interventions were delivered in groups. This was particularly noticed in gardening programmes lasting 12 weeks or more, where depressive mood was reduced in those with long-term health conditions.

The most effective interventions lasted from eight to 12 weeks and the best ‘dose’ was 20 to 90 minutes long. This has practical implications for scaling up the delivery of NBIs via social prescribing, say the researchers.

They conclude: ‘There is a need for substantial and sustained investment in community and place-based solutions such as nature-based interventions which are likely to play important role in addressing a post-pandemic surge in demand for mental health support.’

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