My research focuses on how greenspace interventions work to support improvements in mental health and in supporting reductions in illicit drug and alcohol use. Greenspace can influence human health through a number of pathways, both passive and active, and it is necessary to combine knowledge from natural sciences and social sciences in order to understand existing frameworks and socio-environmental interactions. While there is promising progress in this research area, there is currently little robust evaluation of existing greenspace interventions in Scotland and I am particularly interested in using realist methods to explore what works, for whom, and in what circumstances.
How greenspace might be used to improve mental health and support reductions in drug and alcohol use among people in Scotland
In the UK, there is a range of different mental health interventions that integrate greenspace into their programme design. Theoretically speaking, engagement with greenspace appears to improve mental health through similar mechanisms across programme type despite differing methodologies such as care farming, horticultural therapy, animal assisted therapy, wilderness therapy and forest therapy. There is some evidence already of greenspace programmes being used in substance use recovery e.g. recovery through nature programmes, therapeutic gardens and wilderness programmes however there is still a limited evidence base and no robust evaluation has been done.
My project looks at how access to and engagement with diverse types of greenspace might be used to improve mental health and support reductions in drug and alcohol use in young people. My first stage involves undertaking a realist review of current greenspace programmes in order to allow a far greater theoretical understanding of the intervention process rather than simply deducing whether an intervention is effective or not. The aim of this review will be to provide an explanatory framework that can be used to build feasible, effective interventions based on theory.
For the second stage of my project, I will be collaborating with a couple of organisations who already provide nature-based programmes as part of their recovery framework. Currently there is very little robust evaluation of greenspace programmes so by working alongside service users and staff using a realist evaluation approach, this could be an effective way to develop pathways about what is successful, how they work, why they work, for whom do they work and how does context facilitate mechanisms of change which in turn lead to outcomes. In turn, this theory-based framework could be used to inform future practice.