TODAY -

Mental Health and our Environment

N Munal Meitei *



World Mental Health Day 2023 has the theme, “Mental health is a universal human right.”

While the physical health is the condition of the body, mental health is a general state of well being. Environment is vital in keeping us emotionally, physically and mentally healthy. The impact of environment and climate change are very clear to affect our physical and mental health, increasing the risk of neurological and psychiatric problems.

Now, 20% of all adults worldwide suffered from a mental disorder. Mental disorders have a lifetime prevalence of two out of seven adults and will continue to remain a leading cause of disease burden. The reduction of mental disorder is a health priority in both developed and developing countries.

Natural disasters also have adverse effects on mental health outcome. Scientific evidence is mounting that mental health, in general and suicide mortality, in particular, are related to daily weather conditions. Family environment also plays a crucial role in the development of mental disorders. Thus, the changing climate - economic uncertainty, job insecurity, extreme and volatile weather patterns and displacement - also influence mental health.

There are nearly 1 billion people living with mental health conditions, yet in low- and middle-income countries, 3 out of 4 do not have access to needed services. From noisy, crowded cities to quiet, open, natural settings and from your private bedroom to the entire natural external world, your environment plays an important role in your psychology and mental health.

The time you spend in natural green space has been associated with various measures of personal wellbeing reducing anxiety, lowering blood pressure and levels of stress hormone cortisol which we called-vitamin N.

Spending time in nature is found to reduce with mental health problems which is endorsed by research in Ecotherapy. Natural light is found helpful from seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that affects people during particular seasons or times of year.

Research reveals that environment can increase or reduce our stress, which in turn impacts our bodies. What we are seeing, hearing, experiencing at any moment is changing not only our mood, but how our nervous, endocrine and immune systems are working.

The stress of an unpleasant environment can cause us to feel anxious, or sad, or helpless. This in turn elevates our blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension and suppresses our immune system. Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear and stress and increases pleasant feelings.

Plants help to take away some of the anxiety and tension of life. We know that viewing plants, flowers, water and other nature elements reduces human anxiety. Research done in hospitals, offices and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.

Mental health is now not a personal problem but a social issue.Many people assume that mental illness simply runs in families. While this can be true, but genetics are just part of it. These disorders can be triggered by the environment and lifestyle.

More than 19.86% of adults are experiencing a mental illness, 4.91% with severe symptoms. Mental health problems have negative impacts on poverty, employment, safety, health cost & family disruption. One of the possible factors for rising mental illness could be increasing use of social medias.

To ensure a better mental health, we need to optimize timely intervention, prevention and promotion of good mental health opportunities at the time of onset of mental disorders. In India, 10% of our population suffered from one or more mental health problems.

The country with a meager 5000 psychiatrists and less than 2000 clinical psychologists, the treatment gap is the highest for 143 billion population which has left 70-90% of people without treatment. The ratio of psychiatrists in developed countries is 6.6 per 100,000 and the average number of mental hospitals globally is 0.04 per 100,000 persons, compared to 0.004 only in India.

Poor awareness of mental health symptoms, social stigma and lack of adequate resources and facilities, stop people from getting the help they need. Also, mental health services are highly inaccessible and up to 40% of patients must travel more than 10 km to reach the first available services.

It’s a fact, people who get less connecting with nature is most at risk of mental health problem. Climate change has the psychological impacts on human mental health and well-being. Rising temperature can fuel mood and anxiety disorders, depression, behaviorsand vascular dementia and can increase the suicide rates, according to reports.

Nature helps us to cope with pain because we are genetically programmed to absorb by natural scenes and distracted from our pain and discomfort. In Andrea Taylor’s research on children shows that time spent in nature increases their attention span later.

The Mayo Clinic recommends limiting children's exposure to screens—including computers, television, mobiles, whatsapp and video games—to two hours per day can have serious consequences, including obesity, behavioral changes, irregular sleep, violent tendencies, poor academic performance and dampened creativity.

Many studies show that after a stressful event, images of nature very quickly produce a calming effect. Within three to four minutes after viewing natural scenes, blood pressure, respiration rate, brain activity and the production of stress hormones all decrease and mood improves. This again allows us to recuperate and recover our energy quickly.

It’s true, our all solutions are in nature. The relationship between the environment and humanity is one of interdependence - each affects the other. Therefore, on coming the World Mental Health Day, let’s protect and conserve our environment and ecology for a better mental health and wellbeing.


* N Munal Meitei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be contacted at nmunall(AT)yahoo(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on November 06 2023.



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