July 1, 2021
How Does Environmental Wellness Relate to Mental Health?
Approximately 23 percent (or 12.6 million) of worldwide deaths are due to modifiable environmental conditions like built environments, including housing, workplaces, and roads, and air, water, and soil pollution. Environmental conditions are closely related to the social determinants of health. Social determinants are the conditions in the various environments people occupy—where people are born, where they live, work, play, worship, and more—that affect health and quality of life.2 Environmental and social determinants of health “are hard to disentangle and hard to measure separately.” The physical environment affects levels of stress and fatigue, as well as the availability of social relationships, which can be particularly crucial for individuals with mental health conditions. Reducing stress and increasing access to social supports are key to recovery and reducing symptomology.
What is the Environmental Dimension of Wellness?
Environmental wellness involves being able to be and feel physically safe in safe and clean surroundings and to be able to access clean air, food, and water. This includes both our microenvironment (the places where we live, learn, work, etc.) and our macro-environment (our communities, our country, and the planet). Services and supports can help people to create living, learning, and working spaces that promote learning, contemplation, and relaxation.
Attention to the Inside and Outside Environments
Environments include places like home, school, work or volunteer location, community, planet, and nature. All of these environments have the potential to positively or negatively impact overall health and well-being. Studies indicate that spending time in nature is an “underutilized (and perhaps unknown)” health promotion strategy. Ensuring that people experience time outside (e.g., at parks, beaches, forests, farms, lakes, rivers, gardens) can lower stress, improve mood, and enhance overall well-being.6 Nature is one of many environments that can support environmental wellness.
Encouraging Environmental Wellness
To support the environmental wellness of those they serve, providers can consider these environmental components in treatment and service settings. They can also encourage individuals served to consider these components in their home and work settings:
- Keep the environment clean—organized spaces can “help ease stress and anxiety, as well as promote stronger decision-making skills”7
- Make sure the environment is safe—identify and address occupational hazards and create supportive environments that are inclusive for all abilities8
- Ensure the environment is accessible—make a physically accessible space9 that is trauma-informed10 and culturally competent11 for service delivery
Environmental Wellness Challenge Ideas
- Ride your bike, walk or take public transportation instead of driving.
- Recycle and compost.
- Plant and tend a garden.
- Use natural cleaning products.
- Choose your own healthy habit in this category.
- Remove clutter from your home or office.