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Lockdown spaces: why environment matters to mental health

Nature and our environment is critical to our mental and physical well-being, a fact that was emphasised in our latest podcast episode WORLD: we got this ‘Lockdown Spaces: why environment matters to mental health’.

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In a special live podcast which brought together experts from the King’s ESRC Centre for Society & Mental Health and Department of Geography we discussed how the COVID-19 crisis has given us an opportunity to reflect on the importance of green space in relation to our wellbeing.

Yet at the same time it has further emphasized inequalities in access to space and the natural environment.

Dr Sue Stuart-Smith, a psychiatrist and the author of a recently published book ‘The Well-Gardened Mind’, discussed how her research has revealed that gardening can help us to heal.

Exploring “how, throughout history, people need to turn back to nature at times of crisis”, Dr Stuart-Smith’s book interrogates how after the First World War and, similarly, after various natural disasters and financial crisis, “we recover a sense that ultimately, it’s the earth that sustains us”.

She maintains that whenever the status of the world seems uncertain, people are drawn to the stabilizing effect of gardening.

“It gives us a toe-hold into the future, and it’s a kind of future that we can imagine; the lettuces that we are going to grow when everything else is so very uncertain”.

Dr Helen Fisher, on behalf of the ESRC Centre at King’s, added that green and blue spaces (such as lakes or seas) have been shown to boost our mental wellbeing.

Studies on the whole of the Danish population…found that children who grew up in areas with more green spaces had a lower risk of developing quite a wide range of mental disorders in adulthood, even when they took into account poverty, living in an urban or rural area and parental mental illness.– Dr Helen Fisher

However, unfortunately, during this lockdown period not everyone has been able to reap the benefits of gardening and outdoor spaces.

“Many people who are on lower incomes, particularly those living in large cities, often reside in high rise flats or apartment blocks and have no access to green space personally”.

This has also been problematic for people who’ve been told to shield, for those who are disabled, and for those who have needed to continue to go to work during lockdown.

From a climate change perspective, Dr Margaret Kadari explained that while nature has provided for our mental well-being during the past few months, the lockdown might have concurrently aided the planet’s healing.

The International Energy Agency predicted “global CO2 emissions would fall by about 8% this year compared to 2019, the largest drop since World War Two”.

Despite this, Dr Kadari emphasized the need for political willpower to enable long-term climate-focused transformation:

The pandemic…has revealed that large scale collective action to societal challenges is possible. So an equally dramatic and sustained shift in our individual behavior, that is in harmony with nature and the environment, will be needed to tackle the climate crisis. – Dr Margaret Kadari

Listen to this episode of World: we got this on your preferred podcast provider.

In this story

Margaret Kadiri

Margaret Kadiri

Teaching Fellow in Physical Geography

Helen Fisher

Helen Fisher

Reader in Developmental Psychopathology