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This Spring, Consider the Link Between Green Space and Mental Health

Spring is finally here, bringing longer days, warmer temperatures, and new growth. As a behavioral health provider, this is the perfect time for you to encourage your clients to enjoy the benefits of green space.

Green Health Benefits

An increasing body of research shows that green spaces and nature can be a vital part of mental and physical health. For example, a World Health Organization report in 2016-17 noted that greenery and natural features can specifically help counteract the stress, lack of physical activity, and environmental hazards associated with urban living.

Experts have not yet determined exactly why we benefit from green space, but the effects are fairly obvious. Health benefits include:

Encouraging physical movement
Space to socialize (a notable benefit during the era of COVID-19, when people still need social interaction but many places have limited indoor gatherings)
Lower air and noise pollution
Exposure to beneficial microbes that can improve immune function
Reduced stimulation, leading to a more relaxed mind and increased ability to concentrate, remember, and learn

A Danish study published in 2019 suggests that, among those with behavioral health disorders, the benefits of green space may be greatest for individuals with mood disorders, depression, neurotic behavior, and stress-related concerns.

In fact, the study also found that children who grew up with the least exposure to green space had up to 55 percent higher risk of developing a psychiatric disorder. This was independent of other known risk factors.

Not Just Any Green Space

But are all green spaces created equal? Not necessarily, some research suggests.

One study in the United Kingdom, published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2018, found that biodiversity in urban green spaces was best for mental health. Study participants reported significantly more “psychological restoration” from urban parks with more biodiversity. Where mental health is concerned, parks with a variety of plants and other natural features are more beneficial than cultivated landscapes and modern amenities.

Different people also may respond to green space differently. One 2014 study found that the relationship between urban green space and health can vary by age and sex. Researchers report in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that the benefit of more green space was most apparent in early to mid-adulthood for men. Among older women, those with moderate access to green space had better mental health.

Other research has found that green space access can have specific benefits for children. In the Journal of Pediatric Nursing in 2017, researchers reported that access to green space was associated with better health and cognitive development for children. Green space access was linked to attention and memory restoration, stress moderation, improved behaviors, and even higher standardized test scores.

Behavioral health clinicians can use these findings to encourage green space exposure and outdoor activities in clients of all ages. Consider discussing these benefits with your clients and working with them to determine the best outdoor locations and activities for their particular mental and physical health needs.

With behavioral health services in greater demand than ever, you need to strike the right balance between improving client outcomes, keeping your practice profitable, and staying compliant with regulatory bodies. BestNotes EHR solutions, built and customized specifically for behavioral health clinicians, helps you accomplish all three. Contact us to learn more about how our solutions can help your practice.

date:  Apr 12, 2021
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The Power of Outdoors for Mental Health Treatment

Health providers and clients everywhere are looking for different solutions to many behavioral health disorders and symptoms. While some potential mental health treatments may be untested or controversial, one approach has long shown significant promise, without high costs or side effects: Mother Nature and the great outdoors.

Many years of scientific research and anecdotal accounts demonstrate that outdoor, “green space” can reduce stress and anxiety, encourage mindfulness, and increase physical activity. These green environments include tiny urban parks, rural environments, or natural forests. Activities can range from peaceful meditation to casual hiking to heart-pounding white-water rafting.

What’s the Latest on Outdoor Activities and Mental Health?

Adventure Explorations, an outdoor adventure guiding company based in Pennsylvania, recently published a white paper on the link between outdoor activity and mental health. You can download the report here.

Although people can benefit from exercise and physical movement anywhere, the white paper notes that it’s even better if the activity takes place outside, rather than in a gym or indoor class. The authors cite previous research that found connections between outdoor activities and positive mental health outcomes.

Many types of mental health treatment, including pharmaceuticals, can be helpful, but may take weeks or months to show results. Clients also may experience medication side effects. In contrast, spending time in nature and outdoor activities may show faster improvements without serious side effects or high financial costs.

More Research Focuses on Great Outdoors and Behavioral Health

Additional research is needed to shed light on the best kinds of outdoor activities or green spaces, and who can benefit the most. Future studies can help guide behavioral health clinicians to the best type of activities for their clients.

For example, the University of New Hampshire’s Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Center is planning a new, randomized study to examine the effectiveness of outdoor behavioral health (OBH). Specifically, the study will look at whether OBH can be used as a prescriptive treatment for adolescents struggling with depression, anxiety, or substance misuse.

OBH, also known as wilderness therapy, may help teens struggling with addiction, or emotional, behavioral, or relational difficulties. With wilderness therapy, adolescents participate in one or more outdoor experiences, such as hiking, camping, or climbing. This combines the advantages of physical activity with the benefits of green space exposure. OBH may also involve group living, group therapy, and one-on-one counseling.

A team led by Michael Gass, professor of outdoor education and director of UNH’s Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Center, will compare treatment methods and outcomes among at least 100 teens. The study will also consider the role that socioeconomic factors may have in the treatment process.

Whatever treatment method you recommend for your clients, it’s more important than ever to know how well those treatments are working. However, client outcomes can be a hassle to measure, track, and report.

Fortunately, the OutcomeTools system by BestNotes makes it easy for you to use outcome data to track your clients and therapeutic effectiveness and meet or even surpass industry standards. OutcomeTools is available as a standalone tool or included in the BestNotes EHR solution. Contact us today to learn how OutcomeTools can help your behavioral health and addiction treatment practice.

date:  Mar 08, 2021
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