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Research published today in the Society's journal Geo: Geography and Environment suggests significant links between bird diversity and human mental health.

The study combined data estimating bird diversity across the US state of Michigan with anxiety and mood disorder hospitalisation records, assessing their relationship over an 11-year period. Findings reveal that lower bird diversity is a significant predictor of higher numbers of hospitalisations for anxiety and mood disorders, furthering our understanding of the complex relationship between the mental health and biodiversity crises.

Previous research has shown that over 50% of the population in middle and high-income countries will suffer from at least one mental health disorder, primarily anxiety and mood disorders. Whilst levels of income and the health and density of vegetation are also strong predictors of anxiety and mood disorder hospitalisations, the study published today reveals that bird species diversity exhibits an independent and significant association with mental health, providing evidence that we need to look beyond simply integrating ‘green spaces’ in urban planning.

Lead author of the paper, Dr Rachel Buxton, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Environmental and Interdisciplinary Sciences, Carleton University, commented: “Often we consider nature as representing the amount of green space near homes or the distance to the nearest park, but the link between species diversity and health is underexplored. Our study shows that if species diversity can affect mental health at the severe end of the spectrum (hospitalisations), it is possible that the decline in biodiversity across the globe may be intricately connected with our anxiety and mood on a day-to-day basis.

“It is critical we take a holistic approach to our mental health and nature. Investing in nature should not be viewed as a luxury, but a necessity, and evaluated in the context of the support for wellbeing it offers individuals and communities living in urban or nature-scarce environments. Restoring and conserving diverse bird communities could be one avenue to improving mental health in cities and factored into urban restoration projects and public health policies.”

This study is a small step towards understanding the complex integration of nature and human wellbeing and the specifics of biodiversity need to be researched more. Dr Buxton’s team recommend further studies are taken to examine which particular aspects of nonhuman nature have the greatest impact on mood disorders, in order to inform future urban greening efforts.

Read the full paper: Exploring the relationship between bird diversity and anxiety and mood disorder hospitalisation rates  

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