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LOOK: Suffering from climate stress and anxiety? The treatment is taking a walk in the park... literally

Published Jun 15, 2022

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Canadian doctors and therapists are now able to issue passes to national parks as prescriptions following a partnership between Parks Canada, the country’s national parks authority, and PaRx, an organisation founded upon connecting individuals with nature as a means of therapy.

This partnership will enable doctors and therapists in Canada to prescribe their patients access to the country’s national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas if they believe spending time in those places can help the patients’ health.

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The partnership developed out of a similar “national nature prescription programme” in the United States.

Several studies have shown that spending time outdoors and in nature can lead to a range of mental and physical health benefits, from increased exercise to lower stress hormones to higher self-esteem among children.

Dr Melissa Lem, a physician and PaRx director, said that access to national parks and similar sites can also help patients cope with their fear of climate change, or “eco-anxiety.” Climate, or eco-anxiety, is an increasingly common feeling among many who seek therapy in modern times.

A 2021 study on climate anxiety found that respondents across all countries were worried about climate change, with 59% very or extremely worried and 84% moderately worried. More than 50% of respondents reported that they constantly felt some form of sadness, anxiety, anger, powerlessness, helplessness, and guilt due to climate change anxiety.

Dr Lem shared an excerpt from the Washington Post’s article on Twitter, writing: “If you love something, you want to protect it. I like to think that every time I or one of my colleagues writes at PaRx, we’re also doing our bit for the planet.”

Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault said in a press release that “we are very lucky in Canada to have a world of beautiful natural spaces at our doorstep to enjoy healthy outdoor activities. Medical research now clearly shows the positive health benefits of connecting with nature.”

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“I am confident this programme will quickly show its enormous value to the well-being of patients as it continues to expand throughout the country,” said Guilbeault.

In being able to prescribe their patients an Adult Parks Canada Discovery Pass as part of their treatment, doctors and therapists are asked to “prioritise those who live close to such sites and who could benefit from it the most.”

Nationally, as of 2019, Canada protected 1 133 907 km² (11.4 percent) of its lands and inland waters.

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