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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Parks Stewardship Forum

UC Berkeley

Nature as a mental health intervention: State of the science and programmatic possibilities for the conservation community


Evidence suggests that exposure to nature and natural stimuli benefits individual and community-level mental health, leading to new efforts to incorporate mental health benefits into land conservation design, policy, and programming. This article summarizes the existing evidence about nature exposure and mental health and presents findings from a six-month knowledge-generation exercise conducted through the Yale School of the Environment to identify best practices and potential programmatic activities for the parks and land management sector to support youth mental health through nature-based, outdoor programming. Key recommendations include details on: (1) starting conversations about mental health and nature within the community, (2) recognizing organizational limitations and pursuing partnerships, (3) engaging communities in program development, (4) providing welcoming spaces to build participant comfort, and (5) creating programming that is flexible and adaptable, and becomes more challenging over time. Potential nature-based pilot activities include: (1) low-input ideas for short-term programming, one-off events, or reconfiguration of messaging materials, staff training, and the composition of the organization’s board of directors; (2) medium-input ideas for partnering with outside organizations to connect existing user groups to preserved lands and expand activity offerings; and (3) high-input ideas for generating new programs, typically with organizational partners. The land conservation and parks stewardship sector has a unique opportunity to provide mental health benefits to the communities in which it operates, potentially raising the profile of conserved lands as important and beneficial for society.

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