MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS: Trees and our mental health: A natural connection

By Jeannine Hatt
Special to the Herald Democrat

According to the environmental organization Earth Share, the value of a tree is so great that it is almost impossible to put a price tag on it! Many of you know that air pollution sends more children and adults to doctors’ offices and emergency rooms with asthma and pneumonia, can increase the severity of COVID symptoms and has even been shown to cause increases in cognitive decline among older people.

We all know that trees help give us clean air and water, protect from flood damage, add value to property, moderate temperatures and provide a habitat for the wildlife we all enjoy seeing. But did you know that trees can improve the mental and emotional health of adults and children?

Most of us are under increased stress due to, not only the COVID pandemic, but the many political and social conflicts we may be exposed to through the news media and in our daily lives. This not only has a negative impact on adults but also on our children’s emotional well-being.

“Increased stress occurring in critical stages of childhood development can have measurable and lasting health effects,” says Meredith Franklin, PhD, of the department of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. “Near roadway pollution, noise and a lack of green space in neighborhoods have been found to be significantly associated with children claiming to feel under stress. Advocating for increased green space can serve as a useful intervention that may have lasting improvements on child mental health.” Other studies have shown that residents in neighborhoods with more greenery experience less anxiety and feel more positively about their mental health.

Trees have been shown to help reduce crime! Neighborhoods with abundant trees have significantly fewer crimes than those without. Adolescents living in greater neighborhood green space have been shown to have less aggressive behaviors. Researchers think that this is because green spaces have a calming effect and encourage people to spend more time with their neighbors outdoors, bolstering community trust.

Taking a walk in the woods and having regular access to nature can yield better cognitive functioning, more self-discipline, and greater mental health overall. One study even found that hospital patients who can see trees out their windows are hospitalized 8 percent fewer days than their counterparts.

What is a tree worth? I truly believe that a tree is priceless! We can all create a natural protections for our physical and mental health by spending some time in nature along with our children and grandchildren, protecting our established old woods, planting more trees and advocating for greener communities.

Jeanine Hatt

Dr Jeannine Hatt is a pediatrician who has served the children of Texomaland since 1980 and is affiliated with TexomaCare Pediatrics and on staff at Texoma Medical Center. She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and supports the work and policies they promote in the US and globally.