Shaun Britton explores nature, mental health and how interwoven they are when it comes to well-being.
Photo by Spencer Selover
It is estimated that in 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of world disability, and furthermore, is set to become the biggest global contributor to disease burden by 2030.
In 2013 in the UK, 8.2 million people suffered with anxiety. Also in the UK, it has been reported that 1.2% of the population, or 12 out of every 1000 people, suffer with OCD, although the actual figure may be higher. In 1995, only 0.8% of 4-24-year-olds in England reported having a long-standing mental health condition. By 2014 this number had increased to 4.8%.
It seems that in the modern age, the more we have developed technologically, the more our inner worlds have suffered.
An article in the Greater Good Science Centre publication highlights this problem with a study that tracked the frequency of 186 nature-related words across a vast number of books, films, documentaries and songs from the 1950s onwards.
It found a major decline in the use of such words across these works over that time. The authors conclude that this trend does not marry with urbanisation, as often assumed, but with the growth of technology, notably indoor entertainment such as the advent of TV and video games.
The great escape, or the great mistake?
Technology is not an enemy. The connectivity that today's technology affords cannot be underestimated. The reasons for mental health problems are varied and complex, but it may be that our compulsion to hide in virtual worlds could be covering up what we truly long for.
Keeping our heads stuck in our laptops or phones may be contributing to society taking insufficient responsibility for its contribution to the climate crisis.
Professor Peter Khan has stated that we may be slow to react to the damage we cause to our environment, and his observation could explain why we may have lost sight of our connection to nature:
“All of us construct a conception of what is environmentally normal based on the natural world we encounter in our childhood. With each ensuing generation, the amount of environmental degradation increases. But each generation tends to take that condition as the normal experience. This is what I have been calling ‘Environmental Generational Amnesia’. It helps explain how cities continue to lose nature and why people don’t really see it happening - and to the extent they do, they don't see it as much of a problem”
The Road Back Home
Many studies have shown the immense benefits of more time connected with nature, such as noted decreases in feelings of depression and anxiety. One programme even introduced natural imagery to a selection of prison inmates, who subsequently showed a considerable reduction in violent acts and complex behaviour.
We are not only always able to be in nature, but all too often forget that, in a way, we are nature ourselves. To recognise that we’re a part of nature, inexorably and irrefutably, is to recognise the nature within ourselves.
There is a saying, ‘as above, so below, as within, so without’. If the disharmony, disconnection and discontent within us may stem from, or be affected by our increasing isolation from nature, it is not a great leap to consider that our treatment of the natural world may, unsurprisingly, come from the same place.
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