New World Health Organization (WHO) Booklet about Green & Blue spaces and Mental Health

New World Health Organization (WHO) Booklet about Green & Blue spaces and Mental Health

New World Health Organization (WHO) Booklet about Green & Blue spaces and Mental Health: new evidence and perspectives for action based on the collaborative work between the Eklipse Expert Working group on Green & Blue spaces and Mental Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Executive summary

The growing recognition of the importance of the natural environment, and in particular of green and blue spaces, for mental and physical health has led to numerous scientific studies that provide evidence on a wide range of health outcomes. Among the health effects of green and blue spaces, mental health is one of the most investigated outcomes. WHO recognizes the substantial importance of the benefits related to green and blue spaces, and the critical need to support these spaces to protect and promote health and well-being. This report presents the main results of two systematic reviews on types and characteristics of green and blue spaces and mental health, conducted by the Expert Working Group (EWG) on Biodiversity and Mental Health of the EKLIPSE project. By focusing on mental health, and how various kinds of mental disorders are impacted by green and blue spaces, the analysis synthesizes evidence in an understanding of the interactions between environment and health. Information from earlier WHO reports and activities has also been provided so that the results of the EKLIPSE systematic reviews presented here can be put into the context of the general public health framework of which they are part.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of contact with green and blue spaces in fostering the ability of communities to cope with the stress of the threat of the virus and the physical restrictions imposed in response to it, and also the role of such spaces as alternative places for physical activity and social interaction.

The results and conclusions of the EKLIPSE reviews are of relevance to the health sector, where policies and programmes generally target specific health issues. Besides direct or immediate health and well-being benefits, interventions on green and blue spaces can generate other benefits, related to ecosystem services such as climate adaptation and reduction of air pollution, and can improve opportunities for social interaction. A deeper understanding of the beneficial and restorative impacts of various types and characteristics of green and blue spaces can help guide policy-makers in designing cities that not only support mental health, but also reduce costs to the health-care system. The findings are also relevant to non-health sectors, whose activities influence the planning, design and maintenance of green and blue spaces and, thereby, indirectly affect health and well-being.

The key findings from the two systematic reviews presented in the report can be summarized as follows:
In general, most green space types yielded positive effects on both short-term and long-term mental health outcomes.
For all green space types, there were positive effects on affect ( In psychology, “affect” refers to underlying mood or emotion)
With few exceptions, most green space types also yielded beneficial effects on perceived stress, restorative outcomes and severity of mental disorders.

For long-term mental health, most green space types yielded positive effects on overall mental health, quality of life and subjective well-being.
Dense vegetation and shrub lands were the only green space type that appeared to have no or even negative effects on mental health.
Neutral reported outcomes (i.e. no effect of the green space type found) came from about one third of the experimental studies, and slightly over a third of the cross-sectional and longitudinal studies.
Negative effects were reported in 5% of the outcomes in the experimental studies, and in 8% of the outcomes in the cross-sectional and longitudinal studies.
Characteristics of green spaces have received less attention than types of green spaces in terms of their effect on mental health.
The comparison between different green space types yielded mixed results, indicating that there is not one single green space type or characteristic that appears best, or is a “gold standard” that works best for everyone, everywhere and at every time.
Among blue spaces, benefits of the coast were found across all studies.
Studies looking at direct effects of coastal exposure, as opposed to just coastal availability or proximity, showed in general more consistent positive results on mental health. Positive associations with mental health appeared less clear for inland waters than for coastal blue space.
Across blue space categories, the most pronounced effects were found for affect and affective disorders.

A range of policies and tools is already available to orient and support decisions on urban green and blue spaces. In the urban development context, several actions deserve attention:
taking a holistic approach that encompasses the role of nature to provide ecosystem services, including a wide range of health and well-being benefits;
assessing green and blue space benefits and trade-offs in planning and managing city transformations because of their important role in addressing urban health;
considering that evidence on positive benefits from well-designed and managed green and blue spaces is sufficient for action and is increasing through newly published scientific observations and studies;
focusing on mental health and well-being as an approach to address interrelated issues (e.g. climate adaptation, social inclusiveness and socioeconomic crisis) that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, and work towards a post-pandemic recovery.

WHO Booklet available here: WHO Booklet Green and Blue Spaces and Mental Health

Learn more and download the evidence reports

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