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Being around birds ‘linked to mental wellbeing boost’

Researchers say birdlife could play a role in helping people who have been diagnosed with depression or other mental health conditions.
Researchers say birdlife could play a role in helping people who have been diagnosed with depression or other mental health conditions. Researchers say birdlife could play a role in helping people who have been diagnosed with depression or other mental health conditions.

Watching birds or listening to birdsong may boost mental wellbeing, with effects lasting up to eight hours, according to scientists.

The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, come from real-time reports of participants from around the world, including those who have been diagnosed with depression.

The researchers said their work shows the potential role birdlife could play in helping people with mental health conditions.

Andrea Mechelli, professor of early intervention in mental health at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, and senior author on the study, said: “Our study provides an evidence base for creating and supporting biodiverse spaces that harbour birdlife, since this is strongly linked with our mental health.

“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.”

For the study, the researchers used data from the Urban Mind app – which was developed by King’s College London, landscape architects J&L Gibbons and arts foundation Nomad Projects.

More than 1,000 participants worldwide completed assessments during the study period, which took place between April 2018 and October 2021.

Volunteers were asked three times a day whether they could see or hear birds, followed by questions on mental wellbeing.

The team found that among those with diagnoses of mental health conditions, hearing or seeing birdlife was associated with improvements in mental wellbeing.

A similar effect was also seen in healthy people, with improvements lasting for up to eight hours, the team said.

The team said links between birds and mental wellbeing were not explained by co-occurring environmental factors such the presence of trees, plants, or waterways.

Lead author Ryan Hammoud, research assistant at IoPPN, King’s College London, said: “There is growing evidence on the mental health benefits of being around nature and we intuitively think that the presence of birdsong and birds would help lift our mood.

“However, there is little research that has actually investigated the impact of birds on mental health in real-time and in a real environment.

“By using the Urban Mind app we have for the first time showed the direct link between seeing or hearing birds and positive mood.

“We hope this evidence can demonstrate the importance of protecting and providing environments to encourage birds, not only for biodiversity but for our mental health.”