New research by The University of Essex reveals how volunteering with animals positively affects health and wellbeing, to the point where participation on wildlife projects could be prescribed by doctors as a form of therapy.
Analysing 139 people in the UK volunteering on wildlife-related projects, the study found that 50% of the people who began the project with poor mental health significantly improved after 3 months, The Guardian reports. Additionally, two thirds of people felt happier after only 6 weeks.
“Getting out in nature makes me feel like I’ve been born again,” one volunteer told The Guardian, while another said the experience “has stopped me living under a duvet all day.” A third volunteer admitted that “It has helped my depression and agitation and helped me to wind down and make decisions about my life.”
Dominic Higgins of Wildlife Trusts said the results of working in nature with wildlife were profound. “The evidence is loud and clear – volunteering in wild places while being supported by Wildlife Trust staff has a clear impact on people’s health,” he said. “It makes people feel better, happier and more connected to other people.”
Higgins stressed the need for more green spaces in urban areas. “Those responsible for public health, planning, transport, parks and leisure need to work together to make nature more accessible to people.” He also added that the National Health Service could potentially use the information to replace certain medical treatments that cost taxpayers large amounts of money. “The Department of Health should take note – our findings could help reduce the current burden on the NHS because they illustrate a new model of caring for people that does not rely solely on medication and traditional services.”
Research leader Mike Rogerson from the University of Essex said the study was a big success. “There were improvements for everybody, that is the most important thing to say,” he said. “But also the individuals who scored poorest on wellbeing from the start, then showed the greatest improvement.”
He said they hoped to use the research to encourage GPs to recommend natural treatments for mental health issues and more. “The evidence base has grown over the last 10 years,” he pointed out. “Engagement with these volunteering activities can provide a much-needed antidote for individuals, local areas and the UK as a whole.”