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Alliance for Eco-Therapy, Physical Activity and Mental Wellbeing

Research Theme Investment Scheme, UniSA
Project Leader:  Professor Adrian Franklin

UniSA Team Members:  Dr Johannes Pieters; Dr Linda Pearce; Mr Mark Daker; Ms Kater Deuter

International team members: Dr Andrea Mechelli (Kings  College, London), Prof Terrry Hartig (Uppsala  University, Sweden), Prof Tim Edensor (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK) , Prof Tim Ingold (University of Aberdeen)

Alliance for Eco-Therapy, Physical Activity and Mental WellbeingThis project builds on a growing body of social theoretical work that reveals how the human body, mind and culture is open to and shaped through active connection with the natural world (Edensor 2011; Ingold & Paalson 2013; Thrift 2000). These new relational ontologies reveal how nature and culture never stood as separable entities, but form mutual becomings, ‘incorporating into themselves the lifelines of other organisms as they do so’ (Ingold & Paalson, 2013), and thus opening up the possibility of understanding why and how we attend so closely to the natural world and gain specific benefit from it. A great deal of emerging research suggests that prevention and promotion strategies are a cost effective approach to investing in mental health, and minimizing the onset and impact of serious mental illness (Barry & Jenkins 2007). Furthermore, evidence suggests that contact with nature can protect and promote mental health and wellbeing and prevent mental illness. This project will not only demonstrate the benefits of contact with nature, but how they are acquired and thus maximized to the full. The proposed research activity will draw on a recent international innovation, the Urban Mind app, an international multidisciplinary project which uses participant data to explore and measure how the built environment shapes psychological and emotional dispositions. Equally, the notion that city dwellers feel better in a space with trees, or when they have a view of the sea or a river, or water space, may feel intuitively or anecdotally right – but having evidence for this adds weight, especially when there is a major investment of money at stake for developers. The adoption of ‘ecological momentary assessment’ allows researchers to measure how people feel and what they are doing in real life context, thus it is anticipated that data would be more ecologically valid. Furthermore, it is expected that the partner organizations Neami National, Healthy Parks Healthy People SA and Conservation Council SA will provide baseline data about their relevant eco- therapy programs which will also contribute evidence to inform the research activity.

The aim is to deliver a multidisciplinary, internationally-relevant and service delivery-focused intensive two-day workshop between UniSA, international researchers and stakeholders from across State Government and non-Government organizations. All major stakeholders will be invited to share their research, policy and program experiences with a view to identifying a clear research agenda. This research activity underpins a longer term strategic international alliance with a multiplicity of academics and stakeholders from diverse fields who share a common goal of expanding our current knowledge base by identifying opportunities for enhanced research capability.