Healing the broken bond between our young and nature is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demand it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depend upon it.
— Richard Louv
Now then. Where were we? Ah, yes – we were celebrating Thalia, the Grace and daughter of Zeus who respresents rejoicing, flowering and growth. Certainly, as Spring begins in the northern hemisphere, now is Her time! Thalia’s gifts include the unfolding of flowers, the leafing of the woodlands, and the awakening of life in all things.
Very pretty. Only the hardest of hearts would let Spring’s beauty pass unnoticed and uncelebrated in some way. But for the most part, in our driven, complex, artificial urban worlds, many of us observe Thalia’s workings as a lovely amusement, or even with detachment and alienation.
For really, what does flowering have to do with our real nitty-gritty life? Like the indulgence of keeping a fresh bouquet, it’s all lovely but a bit of a luxury. Right?
Evidently, not at all. In fact, prolonged, intimate exposure with the natural world is crucial to mental health. And this applies particularly for our children. In fact, the lack of our kids having access to long periods of unstructured, unsupervised free time in Nature has contributed to a laundry list of ailments, bundled into what researcher, columnist and child advocate Richard Louv has coined, “Nature Deficit Disorder.”
“Boys and girls now live a ‘denatured childhood,’” Louv writes in his bestselling Last Child in the Woods. The recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal, his book consolidates the increasing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.
Drawing on personal experience and the perspectives of urban planners, educators, naturalists and psychologists, Louv links children’s alienation from Nature to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, stress, depression and anxiety disorders, not to mention childhood obesity.
His is not the only research on this subject. Dr. William Bird, health adviser to Natural England (a British environmental advocacy and policy-making agency) agrees that our long-term mental health is at risk. He has compiled extensive evidence that people are healthier and better adjusted if they get out into the countryside, woods or gardens.
“Stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces,” he says. “Even filling a home with flowers and plants can improve concentration and lower stress.” His report includes evidence that hospital patients need fewer painkillers after surgery if they have views of Nature from their bed.
The long-term cost of this disconnect between our daily life and the natural world is being paid by all of us in ways both obvious and subtle. More about this tomorrow.