It seems that the sound of tweets chirruping away from Twitter these days does little to improve our mental wellbeing, but a new study suggests that back in the real world, our feathered companions really know how to cheer us up. Watching birds in our gardens and neighbourhoods makes us feel happier and more relaxed, and can even ease depression, anxiety, and stress.
The study by the University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology, and the University of Queensland aimed to look at how nature influences our mental wellbeing. “We measured the mental health of around 300 people in the home counties, and then extensively surveyed the number of birds around their homes,” says lead researcher Dr Daniel Cox from the University of Exeter speaking to sciencefocus.com. “We found that people surrounded by more birds had an improved mental health”.
The research found that no matter what a person’s age or social background, whether they lived in busy cities or leafy suburbs, those who saw more birds, trees and shrubs during the day were less likely to feel gloomy. Dr Cox even believes that humans worldwide experience the same effect. “We can’t say for sure, but I think that whether they live in deserts or in the tropics, people will find that birds are good for them”.
The news comes at a time when government spending on mental health issues is higher than ever, so could our avian visitors act as feathery therapists to help us to relieve anxiety and stress? “Last year in Europe, we spent €185 billion treating depression,” says Cox. “That’s a huge amount of money. But depression is a hugely complex case with lots of different types. Birds and nature in general won’t treat all sorts of depression, but they can contribute towards helping people with mental health problems”.
The researchers hope that this research will more generally get us to think about how much time we spend interacting with nature. “75 per cent of the time spent in nature, parks, and gardens is experienced by just 36 per cent of the population. A large proportion of people are spending hardly any time actively outside.”
Although it may be hard to believe for those of us who have ever been accosted by a ravenous seagull on a chip-fuelled rampage, birds are officially good for our health and could be a small part easing the nation’s mental health. A final word of advice from Dr Cox: “spending just 10 minutes a week in a garden or park has immeasurable benefits for our mental, physical, and social health.”