BMC Health Services Research
Background: Mental health conditions are one of the largest burdens of disease in Australia and globally. There is a need to seek innovative and alternative interventions that can prevent and alleviate mental health symptoms. Nature-based interventions (NBIs), namely programs and activities where individuals engage with natural environments with the aim of improving their health and wellbeing (e.g., nature walking groups), may be such an alternative. This study aimed to explore the perceptions of mental health clinicians on the potential benefits of, and barriers to, implementing NBIs within a community mental health setting. Methods: This study used a qualitative, exploratory research design. Fifteen mental health clinicians were recruited from the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, Australia, and interviewed (September–October 2021) about their perceptions of NBIs within mental health settings. The semi-structured interviews were analysed using an inductive thematic approach and managed with NVivo. Results: Mental health clinicians viewed spending time in nature as relaxing, refreshing, and therapeutic. Many described it as part of their lifestyle and encouraged consumers to engage in nature-based activities on their own time. If NBIs were to be introduced as part of mental health services, clinicians expressed willingness to promote them to their consumers. Clinicians listed many potential benefits of NBIs for mental health consumers including improved mood, calmness and relaxation, a sense of empowerment, and social connections. Despite these benefits, clinicians were concerned about a variety of barriers to NBIs including consumers’ mental health symptoms such as anxiety or lack of motivation, scepticism, and geographic accessibility, as well as organisational barriers such as policies around safety risk. Conclusion: Responding to the individual and organisational factors that could hinder the implementation of NBIs while building on the existing evidence of the positive impact of nature on health and wellbeing and, as demonstrated in this study, mental health clinicians’ interest and supportiveness of NBIs, mental health services should consider the implementation of NBIs as part of routine practice.
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