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Mental Health and Nature Featured Strongly in 2017 Symposium Line-Up

It’s no coincidence that people who live in cities, and away from nature, suffer higher rates of depression and anxiety. Exposure to green space has measurable positive effects on

It’s no coincidence that people who live in cities, and away from nature, suffer higher rates of depression and anxiety. Exposure to green space has measurable positive effects on our moods, though scientists are just beginning to figure out how to measure it. Doctors, public health experts, and urban planners are also grappling with how to use the information.

Some of the leading minds in these emerging fields will convene at the 2017 Natural Capital Symposium, March 20-23rd, at Stanford University to expand upon discussions introduced at last year’s event.

The symposium, hosted annually by NatCap, brings together creative thinkers, academic researchers, non-profit doers, government movers, and business shakers, to share new ways of bringing nature to the forefront of decision-making. While topics for the 2017 event will span a wide range of contexts, there will be a special session and working group on mental health, exploring how to begin to model urban nature’s benefits to people.

The research has been growing over the past few decades, said Greg Bratman, based at Stanford University. “It’s starting to gain a critical mass.” Bratman’s research straddles the Woods Institute for the Environment, the Biology, and Psychology Departments.

Experts now agree that there’s enough information about the role of nature in mental health to justify public interventions, Bratman said, even though there are many questions yet to answer.

The 2017 symposium will see researchers collaborate to define and begin to answer critical questions, Bratman said. “There are going to be gaps in our knowledge, that we need to fill with experiments—but are we at a spot where we can start to think of this as a type of ecosystem service? What’s a responsible way of doing that?”

Bratman was the lead author on a recent study showing how walking in a natural setting can help reduce rumination –negative, repetitive thought patterns—compared to walking for the same period of time along a busy city street. Elevated levels of rumination can be associated with the onset of depression. Bratman is exploring whether introducing a “dose” of nature experience into the lives of urbanites may help to decrease the tendency to engage in this damaging pattern of thought.

The research was performed in collaboration with NatCap co-founder Gretchen Daily and Stanford Department of Psychology’s James Gross, who is a leading researcher in the area of emotion regulation, both of whom were Bratman’s Ph.D. advisors, and now advise him as a postdoctoral researcher.

Invited speakers at this year’s symposium session include Carl Folke, science director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the director of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; and Howard Frumkin, Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, at the University of Washington School of Public Health, who is also the former dean of the School of Public Health.

This session is shaping up to be a very interesting one in which leaders in this emerging field will dig into some of our most basic connections to nature and how we might be able to better understand—and use—them.  Join us for this and many other fascinating sessions taking place at this year’s Natural Capital Symposium at Stanford March 20-23.

For more context:

Some of this emerging field’s leading researchers will be gathering for an expert working group and will participate in the symposium session.

Peter Kahn – Director of the Human Interaction with Nature and Technological Systems Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle. Kahn recently published a paper in Science about the public health and ecological benefits of street trees, green roofs, community gardens, and bike paths in cities.

Marc Berman – Professor at the Environmental Neuroscience Lab at the University of Chicago. Berman’s research shows that having ten more trees along ones’ block can improve life contentment comparable to adding an additional $10,000 to income or being seven years younger.

Ming Kuo – Director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana. Kuo recently gave a TED talk about her research showing how spending time in nature improves mental, social and physical health. Her recent research inFrontiers in Psychology compares nature to a multi-vitamin, and highlights how the key to nature’s role in health is how it supports the human immune system.

Ben Wheeler – Senior Research Fellow at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter Medical School. Wheeler published an 18-year study on 10,000 people showing that people living in urban areas with more green space where significantly happier than those living without green space.

James Gross –  Director of the Stanford University Psychophysiology Laboratory, with an expertise in emotion regulation. Gross co-authored with Bratman and Daily the research comparing how walking in nature reduces rumination compared to walking in a city. Gross and Bratman are currently expanding the study.

Andreas Meyer- Lindenberg –  Director of the University of Heidelberg’s Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany. Meyer-Lindenberg looks at social stressors in the city, and how they can affect specific regions of the brain, leading to a higher incidence of schizophrenia, as well as how nature can be a buffer against it.

Stacey Solie is the Communications Lead at The Natural Capital Project.


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