Trees are a ‘must-have’ drug when working on mental health

Rich urban forests can plant the seeds of health in the hearts and minds of those surviving the jungles of mental illness.

A 2022 CNN poll found that 90% of Americans believe America is facing a mental health crisis. Unfortunately, the data bears it out. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five American adults experiences a mental illness. This is an alarming trend that affects people of all backgrounds.

During Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s important to speak out about the silent struggles facing so many people and think about how we can improve the state of mental health in America.

Experts say one way to get there is by increasing investment in green infrastructure.

Studies have found that access to trees reduces the incidence of depression, lowers levels of cortisol, the brain’s main stress hormone, and improves cognitive function. This is especially true in cities and urban areas, where residents are significantly more likely to struggle with depression and anxiety. Resolving concrete jungles with urban forests can make people happier and healthier.

The positive impact of trees is well documented in a growing body of scientific studies in the United States and around the world. For example, a study in Germany concluded that just living within 100 meters of a tree can reduce the need for antidepressants. In Denmark, children who live in the lowest green areas have a significantly higher risk of developing mental illness later in life than those who live near green areas, researchers find. Did. Some doctors even look to trees as a form of medicine and even prescribe forest walks (known as forest bathing) to immerse their suffering patients in nature.

Despite an overwhelming amount of research, there seems to be little awareness among US adults about how trees can have a positive impact on our everyday well-being. According to a Harris poll commissioned by the Arbor Day Foundation, only 41% of American adults value trees’ ability to enhance mental health. I think this is because green spaces are often seen as a luxury.

Clearly, wood is not a “nice to have”. Trees are indispensable.

Everyone has equal access to trees and the positive power they bring. Historically, tree canopies are disproportionately lower in disadvantaged areas than in high-income areas. It also means that access to free mental health care, thanks to Mother Nature, is disproportionately low. Add to this the economic barriers that low-income communities face in accessing traditional mental health treatments such as therapy and medication, and some of our nation’s most vulnerable people are trapped in the struggle. It becomes easier to feel

We need to give people hope.

America’s mental health crisis isn’t entirely solved by trees, but planting more trees could help those trapped in the darkness of an unbearable battle. The resilience, beauty and strength of trees can nurture their minds, bodies and souls and bring them closer to the feeling of peace they longed for.

Dan Lambe is CEO of the Arbor Day Foundation, the largest non-profit membership organization dedicated to tree planting. You can contact him at

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