Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Impact of Nature Exposure on Mental Health During COVID-19 Pandemic

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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals turned to nature as a coping mechanism to maintain mental health. However, the quality of evidence supporting this practice has not been thoroughly examined. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis, utilizing the Navigation Guide methodology, has scrutinized the association between nature exposure and mental health outcomes during the pandemic. This comprehensive study assesses the risk of bias and evaluates the overall quality of evidence to provide a clearer understanding of the psychological benefits derived from nature exposure amidst the global health crisis.

Research Methodology and Findings

The review involved extensive searches across multiple databases, including PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, CINAHL, and PsycInfo, covering the period from January 1, 2020, to March 4, 2024. A total of 113 studies met the inclusion criteria, examining various types of nature exposure such as garden access, frequency of nature visits, and green space accessibility. The associations with twelve different mental health outcomes were analyzed. Key findings from the meta-analyses indicated that access to gardens was linked to reduced odds of depression and anxiety. Moreover, spending increased time in green spaces correlated with lower stress levels. Frequency of nature visits was also associated with enhanced mental well-being and general mental health.

Quality of Evidence and Risk of Bias

Despite the positive trends observed, the study highlighted significant limitations in the quality of evidence. The overall quality was rated as “very low” for all outcomes, with high levels of bias detected. Approximately 26% of the studies were classified as having a high risk of bias, while 71% were deemed probably high. These findings underscore the need for more robust and unbiased research to substantiate the mental health benefits of nature exposure during pandemics.

Key Inferences for Practical Application

  • Providing access to gardens could potentially reduce depression and anxiety in times of crisis.
  • Encouraging outdoor activities in green spaces may help lower stress levels.
  • Promoting frequent visits to nature can enhance overall mental well-being and general mental health.

The study suggests that nature-based interventions, particularly those emphasizing exposure to gardens and nearby green spaces, may have played a crucial role in fostering psychological resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the limited number of pooled studies and the high risk of bias call for caution in interpreting these results. Future research with more rigorous methodologies is essential to confirm these findings and guide public health strategies.

Original Article: Environ Pollut. 2024 May 29:124284. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2024.124284. Online ahead of print.

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