The view that interacting with nature enhances mental wellbeing is commonplace, despite a dearth of evidence or even agreed definitions of ‘nature’. The aim of this review was to systematically appraise the evidence for associations between greenspace and mental wellbeing, stratified by the different ways in which greenspace has been conceptualised in quantitative research.
We undertook a comprehensive database search and thorough screening of articles which included a measure of greenspace and validated mental wellbeing tool, to capture aspects of hedonic and/or eudaimonic wellbeing. Quality and risk of bias in research were assessed to create grades of evidence. We undertook detailed narrative synthesis of the 50 studies which met the review inclusion criteria, as methodological heterogeneity precluded meta-analysis.
Results of a quality assessment and narrative synthesis suggest associations between different greenspace characteristics and mental wellbeing. We identified six ways in which greenspace was conceptualised and measured: (i) amount of local-area greenspace; (ii) greenspace type; (iii) visits to greenspace; (iv) views of greenspace; (v) greenspace accessibility; and (vi) self-reported connection to nature. There was adequate evidence for associations between the amount of local-area greenspace and life satisfaction (hedonic wellbeing), but not personal flourishing (eudaimonic wellbeing). Evidence for associations between mental wellbeing and visits to greenspace, accessibility, and types of greenspace was limited. There was inadequate evidence for associations with views of greenspace and connectedness to nature. Several studies reported variation in associations between greenspace and wellbeing by life course stage, gender, levels of physically activity or attitudes to nature.
Greenspace has positive associations with mental wellbeing (particularly hedonic wellbeing), but the evidence is not currently sufficient or specific enough to guide planning decisions. Further studies are needed, based on dynamic measures of greenspace, reflecting access and uses of greenspace, and measures of both eudaimonic and hedonic mental wellbeing.