New scientific project to explore nature-based therapies for improving mental health

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Can mental health benefit from nature-based health therapies? A new scientific project led by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) will explore how these types of therapies, consisting of frequent exposure to natural green spaces, could be integrated into public health and nature promotion policies to improve the mental health of the population and reduce inequalities in addressing these pathologies.

Over the next four years, the GreenME project will revolutionize the understanding of mental health equality across Europe. To achieve this, it will involve 19 partners from countries such as Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, Poland, Sweden, Germany, and Belgium, with funding of nearly 6 million euros from the European Union's Horizon Europe research and innovation program.

Over 60 members of the consortium recently gathered in Barcelona to kick off the project. Researchers, therapy providers, and municipal representatives worked together to address the project's challenges.

We need to deepen the evidence that therapies based on contact with nature benefit mental health and wellbeing, and one of our basic principles is to empower different stakeholders on how contact with nature benefits people's health (green care), and to involve them in shaping sustainable health solutions." 

Dr. Helen Cole, researcher at ICTA-UAB and one of the scientific coordinators of the GreenME project

"This project will analyze in depth the close relationship between the different levels of green care and mental health equity, enabling this knowledge to be translated into real and effective policies", said Dr. Margarita Triguero-Mas, researcher at the UOC and ISGlobal and scientific coordinator of the project together with Dr. Cole.

The researchers will examine the close interaction between mental health, green care, and environmental justice (including socio-environmental inequities) will be examined. As part of this, they will analyze the effectiveness of nature-based health care interventions. Nature-based therapies range from horticulture, forest bathing (Japanese shinrin-yoku), to any activity that takes place in contact with nature and is specifically designed as a therapy, to promote the cure of an illness or the improvement of personal wellbeing. The project will also review policies that currently promote equality in mental health and environmental sustainability.

In addition to nature-based therapies, the researchers recognize two other types of green care such as contact with nature in daily life (e.g. the existence of green and blue infrastructures for contemplation and walking) or nature-based health promotion (active interaction with greenery, such as gardening and conservation).

"We want this project to play a fundamental role in shaping healthy, just, climate-resilient, and sustainable communities", adds, Dr. Helen Cole. Therefore, the GreenME project aims to update our understanding of how contact with nature benefits our health, ensure equitable access to nature-based therapies, and advocate for a healthier planet for all.

Led by ICTA-UAB, the GreenME consortium "Advancing Greencare in Europe: An Integrated Multi-Scalar Approach for the Expansion of Nature-Based Therapies to Improve Mental Health Equity" is composed of the University of Bologna (Bologna, Italy), Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet - Uppsala, Sweden), ILS Research (Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development - Dortmund, Germany), Warsaw University of Life Sciences (SGGW - Warsaw, Poland), Open University of Barcelona (UOC - Barcelona, Spain), Old- Continent (Brussels, Belgium), NeuroLandscape Foundation (Warsaw, Poland), Gesellschaft für Gartenbau und Therapie (GGuT - Hückeswagen, Germany), Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology (IPIN - Warsaw, Poland), Scandinavian Nature and Forest Therapy Institute & SHINRIN-YOKU (Stockholm, Sweden), Eta Beta Cooperativa Sociale (Bologna, Italy), City of Herne (Herne, Germany), Spanish Association of Horticulture and Social and Therapeutic Gardening (AEHJST - Madrid, Spain), University of Kent (Kent, UK), University of Salford (Salford, UK), Social Farms and Gardens (Bristol, UK), Mind in Bexley and East Kent LTD (London, UK), and Oregon Health & Science University Portland State University School of Public Health (OHSU-PSU) - Oregon, USA.

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