Let’s talk about mental health…
I mean really talk about it. But more than that-let’s talk about the marriage of mental health and our environment. Is that a thing? Does it even matter? Yes and Yes.
We’re all busy. We’re all stressed. And a lot of us don’t know what to do about it. With the growing complexity and pace of our lives-it’s no wonder that people are having mid-life crises including unbearable anxiety and fear of what’s to come. In addition to just our everyday stressors-we add another layer of things to worry about on top of that already leaning tower…global threats. These global threats are things like climate change and the depletion of national resources and they really suck when it comes to their impact on our mental health. Don’t worry-there’s data to back that up.
So what do we do? Well, it’s suggested finding innovative ways to solve these human-created problems is a start to mending this relationship with nature. Additionally, examining how we relate to nature and our environment and reframing that can have a huge impact on how we think about and treat nature. According to the big guys over at the Mental Health Foundation-it is believed that this approach would include a combination of research, education, and the promotion of positive mental health. Sounds okay, right?
When we get down to it-there are links between sustainable development and the promotion of mental health and it’s thought that together these two aspects can lead to flourishing environments and positive environmental changes for communities and individuals.
Soooooooooooo postive mental health…what is that?
To start off let me tell you that while mental health can be scary-that isn’t always the case. Mental health can refer to mental illness-but it also can refer to a person’s well-being, job, and relationships with others. Additionally, when we’re talking about positive mental health we are talking about things like resilience, reducing risks for mental and physical health problems, and an overall flourishing. People who are doing better physically and mentally are more likely to 1) care about the environment and sustainability and 2) do something to protect it.
Okay-now on to sustainable development….
There are a lot of definitions for this so I’ll keep it simple for you. Sustainable development means working on things now to make sure that the people after us have a better quality of life.
So let’s marry these ideas of positive mental health and sustainable development together, shall we?
Here’s what we know. Our psychological and physical well-being is directly connected and relies on nature. We are connected to nature and nature is connected to us-we rely on each other for support. Nature can offer a lot of things for individual mental health including fulfilling emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs. So it makes sense to say that a big part of promoting mental health should also be promoting involvement in nature.
We talked about how nature can promote mental health. Now let me tell you about how there is an increase in positive mental health and environmentally responsible behavior. Long story short-there is one! To clarify, environmental responsible behavior includes actions people take that reflect their care and concern for the natural environment. An example of this could be recycling, buying local, or taking the bus. It also has been shown that people who are “flourishing” are usually living ways that are more sustainable. At the core of these responsible environmental behaviors are two main motivations.
- Intrinsic Orientation
Intrinsic orientation: when people are motivated by internal goals like affiliation, self-acceptance, or that feeling of belonging.
Mindfulness: paying attention, being purposeful, living and behaving in the moment in a nonjudgmental way
Together, these two things increase positive mental health and make us more environmentally aware.
So let me take this thing home, now.
To reiterate my main point, the connections between the natural environment and positive mental health are there and they are really important to think about for the sake of the environment and our own well-being. Second, the goals of sustainability and mental health are very connected so medical and mental health providers should be making the push for more pro-environmental behaviors. Finally, by combining the ideas of mental health and sustainability we are creating and spreading awareness that will help promote one another.
Our minds and our planet is precious-so let’s protect them.
https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/assets/ResourceFinder/MHF-policy-paper-sustainability-and-flourishing-2-.pdf. (2011). Mental Health Foundation 2011.