A Layer of Mental Resiliency
Mental health is a topic that many find it hard to talk about, especially in an Asian-centric region. Ironically, the highest rate of depression reported by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2017) is in China and India, while the US was ranked the 3rd. WHO recently reported over 300 million people are suffering from depression and about 264 million people are affected by a range of anxiety disorders; these numbers respectively reflect an increase of 18.4% and 14.9% since 2005. The causal factors behind poor mental health are varied and complex and this growing problem has, at least in part, been attributed to the disconnect between people and the natural world.
Modern humans have spent most of their existence (about 200,000 years) in the natural world and it's only in recent times that we are abandoning outdoor nature experiences for virtual alternatives and a sedentary lifestyle. According to social media report prepared by Nielson (2017), people spent at least 7.6 hours a day on various media. In Singapore, inhabitants spend more than 12 hours daily on the gadgets wherefore, one-third experience poor sleeping quality (Lin and Toh, 2017). Interestingly, it's not the total time spent that has caused the increase of depression and anxiety. Instead, a national survey conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health (CRMTH, 2016) found that young adults who use more than 7 social media platforms are more likely to have higher levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms. Brian Primack, director of CRMTH, said "while we can't tell from this study whether depressed and anxious people seek out multiple platforms or whether something about using multiple platforms can lead to depression and anxiety, in either case, the results are potentially valuable. (2016)”
Time for Trails...
It’s not a new concept that natural environment has been viewed as an ecosystem service for the promotion of psychological well-being.
The oft-cited theory Stress Recovery Theory (SRT) by Roger S. Ulrich in 1991 found our ancestral interactions with the natural environment over a long period of time gave us the upper hand in responding more positively to the natural environment. In his study, stressful individuals who were exposed to the natural environment showed more positive emotions and less physiological stress than those who were exposed to urban settings.
Another common theory Attention Restoration Theory (ART, Rachel & Stephen Kaplan) has been widely promoted to improve mental fatigue and attention. The restoration happens through spending more time in nature or simply viewing the images of nature. In a recent study, a total of 94 high school students were randomly assigned to one of three classrooms: a classroom with green view windows, a classroom with an environmental view of buildings, and a windowless classroom (Li & Sullivan, 2016). The result showed students who were assigned to green view classroom performed better on proofreading, speech, and mental math exercise. Following a break, the performance of those in the green view classroom increased by 13 percent. The break that allows the students to enjoy the soft fascination of the green view is a vital part of ART because it allows the brain relief from the prolonged maintenance of directed attention.
Nature heals. And, like what John Muir, an environmental philosopher would say "In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks".
Braininstitute.pitt.edu. (2017). Using Lots of Social Media Sites Raises Depression Risk.. [online] Available at: http://www.braininstitute.pitt.edu/using-lots-social-media-sites-raises-depression-risk.
Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
Li, D. and Sullivan, W. (2016). Impact of views to school landscapes on recovery from stress and mental fatigue. Landscape and Urban Planning, 148, pp.149-158.
Nielsen.com. (2017). The 2016 Nielsen Social Media Report. [online] Available at: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2017/2016-nielsen-social-media-report.html.
Yang Chen, L. and Raynold, YK, T. (2017). People in Singapore spend over 12 hours on gadgets daily: Survey. [online] The Straits Times. Available at: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/12hr-42min-connected-for-hours.