Bird watching good for mental health: Study

Kishore Rithe, Director, Bombay Natural History Society said, bird watching gives a lot of satisfaction.
Common Tern bird
Common Tern bird

BENGALURU: Bird watching is good for your health. Especially mental health.This is not a pitch by ornithologists and avid bird watchers. It has been proved by a detailed study. In fact, psychologists and psychiatrists are now advising people to indulge in bird watching, spending time in the forests and indulging in nature-related activities to improve mental health.

Recently, the Journal of Environmental Psychology published a paper titled Birdwatching linked to increased psychological well-being on college campuses: A pilot-scale experimental study. It found empirical evidence on bird watching enhancing psychological well-being, especially among students who are at great risk for experiencing mental health challenges.

In the study, researchers engaged with 112 campus participants in an experiment where they evaluated the degree of weekly bird watching and nature walk exposures and the impact on well-being and psychological distress levels relative to a control group.

“The directions of all relationships supported hypotheses that nature-based experiences and bird watching in particular, would increase well-being and reduce distress. These results build on preliminary evidence of a causal relationship between bird watching and well-being and highlight the value of considering well-being impacts for specific types of activities in nature, underscoring the need for future research with larger and more diverse samples,” the researchers said.

For the study, the researchers used the stepped wedge design where participants (college students) were randomly assigned to either (a) a bird watching walk treatment, (b) a nature walk treatment, or (c) a control group for five weeks (where they were taken for bird watching and then were randomly assigned to one of the other two groups for another five weeks).

Putting it in context, the study said, “Over the past decade, mental health has worsened on college campuses. The national Healthy Minds Study found that 60% of college students reported mental health challenges. Anxiety and depression, in particular, increased among students in wake of Covid-19. The growing mental health crises on college campuses has catalysed a search for solutions to promote the well-being of graduates and undergraduates. Nature-based interventions might help improve college students’ mental health. Spending time with nature may improve mental health, alleviate stress and reduce depression.”

Speaking on the impact of bird watching, Prabha S Chandra, Dean, Behavioural Science at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (Nimhans) said, being in nature, paying attention and focusing on something helps in being mindful and improves mental health. Bird watching is an activity and needs attention. People are nowadays being recommended to involve in nature activities to improve their mental health.

A retired Nimhans professor, independent psychiatrist and avid bird watcher said: “It does improve mental health. It calms one down as it demands focus, concentration and paying attention. It sharpens your natural skills of hearing, minute observation and focusing on details. Earlier when I would advise patients to indulge in bird watching or wildlife activities, people wondered about my qualification, but when they participated, they started to calm down and improved professionally.”

Kishore Rithe, Director, Bombay Natural History Society said, bird watching gives a lot of satisfaction. It has now started to flourish in urban areas, where stress levels are very high. A number of students, especially medical and engineering, are largely participating in bird watching sessions. Many IT professionals are also part of multiple groups like Delhi Birds, e-birders, Royal Society for Protection of Birds or BirdLife International. Besides, student and youth participation is also on the rise, he said. They indulge in activities, not just seasonally, but all through the year.

B P Ravi, Director General, Environmental Management and Policy Research Institute (Empri), said, anything that diverts attention from daily routine and connects with nature helps. People suffering depression and other mental health issues are being advised to participate in nature activities, especially bird watching, he added.

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