A swallow may not make a summer, but seeing or hearing birds improves mental well-being, researchers have found.
The study, conducted by academics at King’s College London, also found that daily encounters with birds improved the mood of people with depression, as well as the general population.
The researchers said the findings suggested that visits to bird-rich places, such as parks and canals, could be prescribed by doctors to treat mental health issues. They added that their findings also highlighted the need to better protect the environment and improve biodiversity in urban, suburban and rural areas to preserve bird habitats.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, tracked 1,292 participants’ daily encounters with birds over the past year through a smartphone app called Urban Mind.
Over the course of two weeks, participants, from the UK, Europe, US, China and Australia, were asked at random intervals to record how they were feeling, including whether they were happy or stressed, if they could see trees and if they could see or hear birds.
Researchers found that participants’ average mental well-being scores increased when they saw or heard birds, including among those who revealed they had been diagnosed with depression.
This beneficial effect also lasted beyond the time of the bird encounter, with higher levels of mental well-being noted by participants who did not see or hear the birds the next time they recorded. their mood.
However, this positive effect did not persist if participants did not encounter birds during their subsequent mood assessment, which the researchers said indicated “a possible causative effect of avifauna on well -being mental”.
Andrea Mechelli, Professor of Early Mental Health Intervention at King’s College London, said: ‘We need to create and support environments, especially urban environments, where bird life is a constant feature. To have a healthy bird population, you also need plants, you also need trees. We need to nurture the whole ecosystem within our cities. »
He added that the positive effect of bird encounters on people with depression was important because many “interventions that help so-called ‘healthy people’ don’t work for people with mental health issues. “.
Mechelli said, “We know exercise makes everyone feel better. But motivating someone with depression to exercise is incredibly difficult. While contact with bird life is something that, perhaps, is doable.
Artist Michael Smythe, of Nomad Projects, which helped King’s College London develop the smartphone app for the study, said the research also raises questions about the link between health inequalities and access to nature, with other research showing that deprived areas often had less green space. than affluent areas.
Nomad Projects co-founded Bethnal Green Nature Reserve Trust, which built a pond last summer which Smythe said had attracted a “huge diversity of birds”.
“It’s a very therapeutic, biodiverse complex, an abundant space within a huge housing estate between four thoroughfares,” Smythe said. “It’s now a place where people go in droves every day just to relax.”
Adrian Thomas, author of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ guide to birdsong, said the report’s findings came as no surprise as most people described their reaction to birdsong as joy.
He added: “Birdsong would once have been the natural soundtrack to all human lives, and I think it’s embedded somewhere deep in our psyche. It’s associated with spring, renewal and good times to come. , which is just one of the reasons why we need to confront this crisis of nature and ensure that nature does not fall silent.
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