by Ivan Anthony A. Adaro | March 7, 2022
Suffering from depression and anxiety is a man cooped up in their room, left in the dark with no one to talk to but their thoughts and feelings of sadness and worthlessness. They plead for help, hoping for someone with an empathetic soul to listen to their stories, only to be shunned and mocked by the people and communities that were supposed to be the first ones to understand these untold whispers. Harsh, tactless words like “You’re just overreacting, it’s just all in your head!” or “You’ll get over it soon, you’re just undergoing a phase.” crushes their spirits as deceitful tongues forks the empathetic words that they had hoped to hear.
Sadly, for a country that always projects flabbergasting speeches and campaigns about normalizing mental health conversations, the Philippines is among the leading countries with increasing deaths and disorders caused by mental health problems.
At the height of the pandemic, COVID-19 has contributed to increasing, and often unmet, mental health needs. Citing a study and survey from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Department of Health (DOH) estimated that at least 3.6 million Filipinos are facing mental health issues during the pandemic, including depression, substance use problems, and mood disorders. This should be enough justification to prove that mental health problems are prevailing issues that should be given the same utmost attention and significance just like any other issue. Still, despite the fact that mental health issues are prevalent and may affect anybody with a psyche, there is still this great stigma attached to it. This stigma makes people suffering from mental health issues hesitant and ashamed to seek help.
The acceptance and understanding of mental health issues have progressed significantly since their inception. As more advanced technologies and studies have been made to solve and eradicate mental health problems, the stigma attached to it and instances of mental health shaming are evidence that society has yet to deliver on its promise of providing safer environments for mental health concerns. People have been so caught up and headstrong on the scientific and statistical approaches of eradicating these issues, but what is the point of these statistics and advanced studies if people do not take mental health issues seriously? Is it because people don’t know what to do and how to help people suffering from mental health disorders, or is it because of the belief that mental health problems are thought to be just “all in the head”?
A few days ago, on the third of March, vice presidential candidate Dr. Willie Ong shared that he wants the government to invest in green spaces to nurture the public’s mental health. Citing various studies, such as the one conducted in Philadelphia last 2018 where the residents’ mental health improved when vacant lots were transformed into green spaces, Ong noted that open green spaces will enhance life satisfaction and improve mental health in the Philippines. But what really is a green space? And what would it mean for the country and for the citizens, especially those suffering from mental health problems?
What is a Green Space?
Green spaces, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, are any vegetated land or water within an urban area. These are lands that are partly or completely covered by nature — grass, trees, shrubs, and other vegetation. Parks, plazas, gardens, playing fields, vacant yards — with their open spaces that provide recreational activities and attractive sceneries, are green spaces.
Quality and well-maintained green spaces create environments where people can live happy, healthy, and active lives. They create appealing and bright environments in which people can gather to unwind and experience an oasis of tranquility amid city bustles. Along with the natural surroundings that serve as natural grounds for breathing spaces, these communal places also encourage communities to come together and engage in recreational and leisure activities — a perfect environment to bring people together with nature and to detoxify from city life, stresses, and problems, says the same agency.
Green Spaces Are Not Just for Nature — They Boost Mental Health Too
Green spaces do not only provide recreational areas for residents and help in enhancing the beauty and environmental quality of the neighborhoods. According to studies, green spaces have been shown to have a protective and positive influence on people’s mental health. Being surrounded by these spaces allows people to recover from stress faster and less likely to develop depression. Children are also more likely to have fewer psychological issues as they grow older.
Adults are less prone to take their own lives. But why is that so? What is the psychological effect and explanation behind this?
Experiments consistently show and indicate that gazing at scenes of nature can enhance people’s immediate outlook and help them recover from stress. Though the link between the natural environment and people’s mental health and wellbeing psychologists and ecologists have revealed are complicated, and are not fully understood yet, a number of studies have already proven this speculation and educational guesswork to be true, according to Gwen Dewar, a doctor in philosophy and science. Even a simple viewing of photographs of nature, as researchers have demonstrated, can help people experience fewer negative emotions and are more likely to implicate and show positive moods. This is because scenes of nature have a restorative psychological effect that triggers and activates the parasympathetic nervous system of the human body — the system that helps people calm down and recover from stressful events.
The Drawbacks and How to Use It to Our Advantage
Access to urban green spaces is unequal across racial and socioeconomic lines in many places. Citizens, particularly those of lower socioeconomic standing, have been found to be most likely to suffer negative externalities as a result of urban green spaces. In addition to these setbacks, urban green spaces also have the potential to increase property values and accelerate the gentrification process, not to mention that the line between nature and city life might clash.
This is why when implementing and investing in new developments such as urban green spaces, the government and state as a whole should consider equity and equality for access and utilization of these green spaces. Citizens should also provide and act with a healthy and green approach to these spaces to achieve their maximum potential benefits.
Investing in green spaces may not be easy, but it has indeed many benefits and redeeming qualities. Not only does it improve environmental quality and natural surroundings, but more importantly, it provides a healthy and green space to nurture the public’s health needs, as evidenced in the studies and existing green spaces around the world by researchers and scientists.
Key Lessons and Takeaways
Mental health issues have claimed many lives during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, at least 4,420 people in the Philippines have died due to intentional self-harm and suicide, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). The numbers were 57% higher than that in 2019 with 2,810 suicide-related deaths. Suicide was marked as the 25th top cause of death in 2020, up to six places from its previous ranking of 31st in 2019. There will be no more meaning in the words we will utter to the souls of these individuals once they are gone. While it is not yet too late, let us break the stigma and start listening to their stories, affirming their presence, and radiating positivity into their lives.
Rather than forcefully dumping people suffering from mental health problems to another person, shaming them helplessly, and investing in huge amounts of money to buy them happiness found in material things, why don’t we go back to the simple things in life, such as nature and personal interactions, and be there to actually listen to their stories and be the ones to personally provide them a healthy and green space — one that allows them to freely express themselves without the worry of getting mocked or judged. By breaking the stigma and belief that mental health problems are just “all in the head”, we will truly achieve a society where normalized mental health conversations will grow and where negativity and shame hampered on the stigma that mental health is just an overreacting phase will not foster.
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Coronavirus takes its toll on mental health as Filipinos battle stress, anxiety. (August 12, 2021). BusinessWorld. Retrieved March 6, 2022 from https://www.bworldonline.com/coronavirus-takes-its-toll-on-mental-health-as-filipinos-battle-stress-anxiety/
Dewar, G. (2019). How green spaces benefit mental health. Parenting Science. Retrieved March 6, 2022 from https://parentingscience.com/green-spaces-benefit-mental-health/
Douglas, K. (March 24, 2021). Green spaces aren’t just for nature – they boost our mental health too. NewScientist. Retrieved March 6, 2022 from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24933270-800-green-spaces-arent-just-for-nature-they-boost-our-mental-health too/#:~:text=Being%20in%20green%20environments%20boosts,at%20the%20University%20of%20Chicago.
Fernandez, D. (March 3, 2022). Doc Willie Ong wants more green spaces to nurture mental health. Inquirer.Net. Retrieved March 6, 2022 from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1563027/doc-willie-ong-wants-more-green-spaces-to-nurture-mental-health#ixzz7MkMUEDlw
Murawski, D. (May 19, 2020). The Values and Shortcomings of Green Spaces in Urban Environments. Retrieved from March 6, 2022 from https://usfblogs.usfca.edu/sustainability/2020/05/19/the-values-and-shortcomings-of-green-spaces-in-urban-environments/#:~:text=In%20many%20cities%2C%20access%20to,those%20of%20lower%20socioeconomic%20status.
United States Environmental Protection Agency (April 10, 2017). What is Open Space/Green Space? Retrieved March 6, 2022 from https://www3.epa.gov/region1/eco/uep/openspace.html