Pupils turn to nature for mental health solutions

Students across the UK are researching the positive impact that spending time in nature could have on mental health

Kate Parker

Pupils all over the country are carrying out research into the effects of the natural environment on mental health

Pupils across the UK are turning to nature to take back control over their mental health.

As stories about the dramatic increase in teenagers’ mental health issues continue to multiply, pupils studying geography, biology, environmental science and psychology are exploring the connection between mental and physical wellbeing and the environment.

The Institute for Research in Schools (Iris), which is supported by the charity Wellcome, launched the project Well World to empower young people to provide evidence-based ideas and solutions that can help themselves and other students worldwide when it comes to mental health.

Nature walks 'boost mental health'

Pupils at Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School in Canterbury found that walks in high bio-diversity areas helped to reduce blood pressure and high levels of anxiety.

 

Well World has been piloted in one primary and five secondary schools across England so far, and has asked students to investigate one of two research questions. The first is whether spending time in areas with more diverse plant and animal species is linked to lower blood pressure and anxiety, and the second is whether exercising outdoors is more beneficial for wellbeing than exercising indoors.

Sam Goodfellow, biology teacher at Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School, says: “Taking part in this project has been incredibly rewarding both as a teacher, but also as a biologist. It has been wonderful to watch students discover the trials and tribulations of taking part in real research, from planning to evaluation, and experience the thrill of finding out something new.

"I am now able to reference our research in the classroom and pupils can experience the importance and relevance of experimental work on their doorstep. After 20 years in the classroom, this experience has reminded me of my love of science, not just my love of teaching it.”

This generation of young people are the ones best placed to find solutions to mental health problems, says Professor Becky Parker, director of Iris. 

“Incorporating students in research of this kind seems like such a logical step. This generation are aware of the problems with mental and physical wellbeing, and could likely be the ones to find a plausible solution. The results we have seen so far are encouraging and we hope to see more interest from schools around the country.”

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