ReviewSOCIAL SCIENCES

Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective

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Science Advances  24 Jul 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 7, eaax0903
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax0903
  • Fig. 1 A conceptual model for mental health as an ecosystem service.

    (1) Natural features include the characteristics (size, type, and qualities such as configuration) of the nature under consideration. (2) Exposure is estimated through methods that take proximity, likelihood, and duration of nature contact into account. (3) Experience characterizes the types, forms, and intensity of experience that exposure instantiates. (4) Effects (i.e., mental health impacts) will vary according to the moderating influences of individual differences and sociocultural context, which may affect the impact experienced by people [here represented conceptually by groups A to D (e.g., different age groups)], members of which may receive different benefits from nature experience, given these moderators. It is also possible that a group will receive a net negative effect due to individuals’ aversion to urban green spaces or the negative repercussion of green gentrification in their area, for example (represented conceptually by group B). Photographs are from the public domain and free for public use.

  • Fig. 2 Configuration and composition of urban green space.

    Along with other factors, spatial configuration and composition should be considered when estimating nature exposure. Different shades of green here represent different types of nature [e.g., clusters of open lawns (A to C) versus trees (D to F)], which are embedded within urban surroundings. Despite these differences, all panels have the same total amount of nature (34 street blocks). Vertical contrasts illustrate differences in configuration of this nature [e.g., (A) versus (B) versus (C)]; horizontal contrasts illustrate differences in its composition (i.e., type of nature) [e.g., (A) versus (D)]. Images (A) to (F), ©2017 Google; images (A)–(C) and (D)–(F) are photographs from the public domain and free for public use.

  • Fig. 3 A hypothetical application of the conceptual model using a case study for which antidepressant prescription is the outcome.

    Information is gathered for each of the three steps. (1) Natural features in this case are street trees (other characteristics unspecified, including spatial configuration). (2) Exposure is calculated using a cumulative exposure approach regarding residential street tree density (spatial configuration illustrated here for conceptual purposes but not relevant to this estimation metric). (3) Dose and/or interaction were not taken into account. (4) The effect of decreased antidepressant (AD) prescriptions in areas with more street trees is represented along with other potential benefits (e.g., stress and working memory) not projected specifically in this case, although they are represented conceptually. As illustrated in Fig. 1, different nature options provide benefits that we can quantify over and above a “no nature” version of an urban plan. The model allows us to compare net benefits (total benefits less costs) of different viable plans. Benefits will also likely vary according to the moderating influences of individual differences and sociocultural context, here represented conceptually by groups A to D, as people receive different benefits from nature experience given these moderators. Photographs are from the public domain and free for public use.

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