How Parks and Playgrounds Support Mental Health
It’s widely known that being out in nature can boost your mood, but just how closely are mental health and landscape linked? Apparently, very. Scientists discovered that those who live in places with little to no green spaces have a 44% higher rate of diagnosed anxiety disorders and 33% more reports of diagnosed depression than those surrounded by more greenery.
However, neighborhoods with the most green space are not always the healthiest, proving that parks must be intentionally designed with mental health in mind. To create quality green spaces, park advocates and city officials must recognize the connection between parks and mental health and create places that promote positive mental health habits. Below, we will give more detail on the benefits of parks and suggest programs to improve playgrounds and mental health.
How Parks Benefit Your Mental Health
The mental health benefits of being in nature are extensive. Exposure to natural surroundings can elevate psychological health, and housing near green areas can reduce residents’ mental fatigue. Even a simple window overlooking trees can help surgical patients recover faster. Let’s look at the top five ways for how parks and playgrounds, in particular, use their natural environment to provide mental health benefits:
1. Stifle Stress
It turns out that taking a short walk outside really will clear your head. In one study, researchers found that study participants’ levels of cortisol, a hormone released when stressed, went down after spending time in nature. Participants who were in a park environment reported feeling less stressed and more creative than those who stayed in an urban area.
2. Decrease Depression
A lack of natural surroundings can impact more than just stress levels. It can also negatively affect one’s levels of sadness and depression. One study looked at the amount of diagnosed depression in areas of only 10% green space compared with areas containing 90% green space.
The results showed 32 cases of depression per 1,000 people in places with little green space, but only 24 cases per 1,000 people in areas with more greenery. The team concluded that access to nature is key to keeping rates of clinical depression and sadness down.
3. Foster Focus
Playing outside can also improve kids’ focus and help them pay attention longer. Children with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have fewer symptoms and can concentrate better after being active outside for a short time during the school day. Spending time on the playground allows kids to release pent-up energy so they can be less fidgety and distracted during school.
4. Stimulate Social Interaction
Children who learn to play well with others at a young age develop better interpersonal qualities and teamwork skills. Parks and playgrounds provide the perfect place for kids to hang out with their best friends and meet new ones. Considering the social health perks of local playgrounds, it’s no wonder that neighborhoods with thriving green spaces experience stronger social ties.
5. Heighten Happiness
Along with quick-fix results, you can count on the long-term mental health benefits of spending more time in nature. Research has shown that people who moved to a greener neighborhood still saw mental health benefits after three years of living in the new area. This kind of happiness is much more long-lasting than the short rush of euphoria you get after receiving a raise, which fizzles out after about six months.
Mental Health Initiatives for Your Park
Now that you’ve seen the strong connection between green space and mental health, it’s time to discuss how your park can start using its platform to promote mental wellness. Keep in mind that only quality green spaces effectively raise mental health, so it’s important to specifically design a park’s features and programs to support mental wellness.
Here are some ways your park can work with local experts to initiate mental health programs.
Mental Health First Aid
Mental Health First Aid is a nationwide training program created to give people the tools they need to respond well during a mental health emergency. The courses are offered across the country, making it easy for park agencies to train their staff in recognizing the signs of a mental health condition and appropriately addressing a mental health crisis.
As another nationwide initiative, Park Rx runs “prescription” programs designed to promote spending time in nature to boost overall health and well-being. Typically, these programs are made possible by a collaboration between park and public land agencies, community partners, and health care providers.
The 120 Challenge
Studies have shown that it takes only 120 minutes in nature per week to improve your well-being and reap mental health benefits. After 120 minutes in nature, blood pressure and stress hormones lower, ADD lessens, anxiety levels decrease, self-esteem increases, and your overall mood is uplifted.
Motivate your community members to get outdoors with the 120 Challenge. This initiative is a public program encouraging people to log 120 minutes in nature each week of the summer for a reward — such as vouchers for local restaurants — for completing the hours.
Walk With a Doc
This free, doctor-led walking program is designed to help participants start health and wellness conversations with a professional in a fun, stress-free setting. By letting people walk alongside a health care professional in nature, Walk With a Doc gives them the chance to talk about mental health issues without the fear of being stigmatized for seeking help.
In Japanese, forest bathing is called “shinrin-yoku” — “taking the forest.” It is another walking-based way of promoting mental health through guided nature walks during which participants are encouraged to engage their senses by paying special attention to notable sounds, smells, and textures. Through getting in touch with their senses, participants can let go of their stress and experience mindfulness, a useful technique for treating anxiety and other mental health disorders.
Bring forest bathing to your local park by coordinating a “Mindfulness Walk” through one of its trails. Add some stations throughout the walk, such as a Zen garden, soothing fountain, or labyrinth, to encourage awareness of the present moment, focus, relaxation, and reflection.
Contact Little Tikes Commercial for Ways Your Park Can Support Mental Health
If you want to start a mental health initiative at your park, contact Little Tikes Commercial today to see what improvements your park can make to get more people out in nature and support mental wellness. At Little Tikes Commercial, we offer a wide range of products for safe outdoor play so your park visitors can relax and enjoy all the mental health benefits of playgrounds in a secure environment.
For help deciding which play structure is right for promoting mental health at your park, call 800-325-8828.