The role of nature in our health
While it isn't news that mental health has become a major concern in society, our survey picked up something alarming. 'Mental burnout' is described by the Black Dog Institute as "feeling exhausted and disconnected, and as though they’re 'going through the motions' without motivation or meaning" and that it shares symptoms with depression, including fatigue, social withdrawal and decreased work performance. It has traditionally been associated with the workplace and was re-classified by the World Health Organisation in 2019 as an occupational phenomenon that is restricted as a work-based syndrome rather than a medical condition. But there is no denying that how we feel at work impacts how we feel at home, which can cause larger health issues.
An alarming 56.7% of women in our survey had felt close to experiencing or had experienced mental burnout before.
97% either strongly agreed (77%) or agreed (20.7%) that regular immersion in nature is good for our wellbeing, indicating an innate awareness and appreciation for the role the environment plays in our direct ongoing health. While we understand a lot about what happens to us when we head outdoors, some of these key messages are either failing to reach us or there needs to be more explored in how nature affects our brains and bodies, as 89% of respondents believed there needed to be more scientific study of these benefits. Respondents were even more fervent (99.5%) in their belief that regular immersion in natural settings can improve the learning and behavioural outcomes of our kids.
Kathmandu Global Ambassador, Tim Jarvis, is a patron of NaturePlay South Australia and spoke to us about his belief in the need to revive our children's relationships with the outdoors.
"There are a lot of developmental benefits to getting kids outdoors," says Tim. "Kids who spend a lot of time in nature develop problem-solving abilities. Nature has no straight lines. If you’re a kid climbing a tree outdoors you have to make judgements about whether the branches are strong enough to support your weight. Your assessing risk all the time. You’re learning. You’re thinking. You’re having to make judgements for yourself."
The 2018 Outdoor Industry Association report found that people who were regularly exposed to the outdoors as children were more likely to participate in outdoor activities during adulthood.
There was a general split of opinions about whether or not this understanding of nature's role in our health is being supported enough in schools, with 54.8% of survey respondents believing schools could be doing more to support our interactions with nature.
Scientific research into how our brains and bodies relate to the outdoors is growing.
"Beyond brain imaging of experiences in nature, there is growing and compelling evidence that contact with diverse microbiomes in the soil and air has a profound effect on depression and anxiety," says Zoe Myers, Lecturer at the Urban Design Research Centre at the University of Western Australia.
What is clear is that the women in our survey had an overwhelming awareness and appreciation for the role of nature in our health.