Watching birds and listening to their songs are soothing. In a new study, a team of researchers found just how beneficial these can be for people’s mental health–even for those with mental health conditions.
A growing body of evidence has been showing the benefits of nature on people’s mental health, the researchers noted in their study, published in Scientific Reports. However, much of the literature is focused on interactions with green spaces such as trees, parks and forests, while others also cover “blue spaces”‘ such as lakes.
“While these studies have led to growing appreciation of the mental health benefits of nature in general, we know little about the specific features within green and blue spaces which are driving these benefits,” they wrote.
And for their study, they focused on an aspect that they say “has captivated humans over the centuries and yet has received very little scientific attention: birdlife.”
For their work, the researchers used an app called Urban Mind to collect data from 1,292 participants from all over the world, though most of them were from the U.K., U.S., and the European Union.
Using the app, the participants were asked three times a day whether they could see or hear birds, King’s College London noted in a news release. Their “current” mental well-being was also assessed, while the researchers also collected information on any diagnoses of mental health conditions.
Among the researchers, the hypothesis is that having encounters with birds on a daily basis “would be associated with higher mental well-being.” Indeed, they found that hearing or seeing birds proved to have benefits on the participants’ mental health, as their mental well-being was “significantly better” when they saw or heard the creatures.
“Everyday encounters with birdlife were associated with time-lasting improvements in mental wellbeing,” the researchers wrote. “These improvements were evident not only in healthy people but also in those with a diagnosis of depression, the most common mental illness across the world.”
The mental well-being improvements, the university noted, could last for up to eight hours. Further, they were not explained by other “co-occurring” factors such as trees, plants or waterways, as the results remained significant even after the researchers took these factors into account.
“Critically, the results were still significant, providing support to a specific benefit of birdlife on mental wellbeing, above and beyond the well-established effect of green spaces,” they noted.
According to the researchers, the results show the potential benefits of birds in helping to improve people’s mental health and thus may be considered when it comes to both mental healthcare and environmental/wildlife protection policies.
This is especially important, they said, given the current decline in biodiversity. For instance, they noted a recent European report, which found that one in six bird species has already disappeared since the 1980s.
“Our study provides an evidence base for creating and supporting biodiverse spaces that harbor birdlife, since this is strongly linked with our mental health,” study senior author, Andrea Mechelli of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, said in the news release.
“In addition, the findings support the implementation of measures to increase opportunities for people to come across birdlife, particularly for those living with mental health conditions such as depression,” Mechelli added.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study examining the impact of everyday encounters with birds on mental wellbeing in real-time and real-life contexts,” the researchers wrote.