The SAHMRI Wellbeing and Resilience Centre hosted a fantastic panel discussion in Adelaide last Wednesday night on the subject of teaching resilience and wellbeing in schools. Both subjects are very topical at the moment as key interventions to promote mental health and a high quality of life in all ages. It is estimated that mental illness costs Australia $190 billion per year, 12% of our national GDP! Significantly, 1 in 4 young people suffer from mental illness in any particular year and 9 million working days are lost as a result annually. So what a wonderful subject to promote and introduce in schools. More awareness and skills = better coping mechanisms and a happier and healthier society.

It is particularly encouraging that focus on these issues is becoming increasingly mainstream and holistic. It indicates that as a society we are looking deeper into critical issues that have a massive influence our quality of life. The thing I was left wondering about however was where in all of this is the conversation about the impact of natural and built environments?

We now exist in increasingly urbanised areas which have been stripped of the majority of their natural assets. Here in Adelaide it is estimated that we have 3% of original natural vegetation left in our city region and only 13% left throughout the Adelaide Mount Lofty region (which ironically is listed as one of Australia’s 15 biodiversity hotspots due to its unique natural attributes). Like many other areas the natural world here is literally on its knees and we are suffering as a result.

There is a wealth of literature linking our health and wellbeing to contact with nature (including this excellent report) plus its intuitive. We used to spend our days roaming for food, observing the seasons, and worshipping the planet that provides us with everything we need to survive and live a fantastic life. And where do we go for our holidays? We are biophilic by nature. Most of the time somewhere beautiful where we can get away from it all, i.e. somewhere more natural than a city. And what’s the result? Less stress, a feeling of rejuvenation, and if you have been somewhere really cool a stack of photos of animals, landscapes and natural wonders. And if not, all that great food you enjoyed originally came from somewhere nice.

If we are going to be completely holistic in our approach to wellbeing and resilience I believe this will be our next big focus. All it takes an awareness and acknowledgement of our physical environments importance and then a change in decision making and design focus. The results could be dramatic, compounding and significantly contribute to addressing this issue and increasing our quality of life across the board.

There is already movement in this area. Leaders in the field of education include the Children and Nature Network, David Sobel, Professor Tim Gill, Claire Warden, Erica Gurner, the Nature Play and Education for Sustainability movement, and many more. It’s not just a youth issue, it’s a whole of society issue and I hope that within the holistic approach to treating the issues of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing the effects of our environment take a central role.