A new study led by King’s College London (KCL) has found that seeing or hearing birds could lead to improvements in mental wellbeing which could last up to eight hours. Such an improvement was also noticeable in people suffering from depression – the most common mental illness worldwide – suggesting that exposure to birdsong could have a potential role in helping those with mental health issues.
The scientists used the smartphone application Urban Mind to collect people’s real-time reports of their mental wellbeing, together with their reports of seeing or hearing birds. The study was conducted between April 2018 and October 2021, with 1,292 participants from a variety of countries (with the majority based in the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States though) completing 26,856 assessments using the Urban Mind app. The participants had to report through this app three times per day whether they could see or hear birds, followed by inquiries regarding their mental wellbeing.
“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,” said study lead author Ryan Hammoud, a research assistant in Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience at KCL.
“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.”
The researchers also collected information on existing diagnoses of mental illness and discovered that hearing or seeing birdlife was associated with improvements in mental wellbeing in both healthy participants and those diagnosed with depression. According to the scientists, these links between birds and mental wellbeing could not be explained by other co-occurring environmental factors, such as the presence of plants, trees, or waterways.
“The term ecosystem services is often used to describe the benefits of certain aspects of the natural environment on our physical and mental health,” explained study senior author Andrea Mechelli, a professor of Early Intervention in Mental Health at KCL. “However, it can be difficult to prove these benefits scientifically. Our study provides an evidence base for creating and supporting biodiverse spaces that harbor 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,” he concluded.
The study is published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and Earth.com.
By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer