NHS prescriptions for walks in the park have fewer mental health benefits than spontaneously enjoying nature as they put people under pressure, a study has found.

So-called “green prescriptions” are typically given alongside conventional therapies, and encourage the patient to be more physically active.

However, researchers have found that being prescribed enjoyment of the great outdoors is less effective in treating mental health conditions than if the patient chooses to spend time outside.

The findings come after the Government announced a £4m two-year pilot scheme earlier this year in which people needing support would be told to spend time in green spaces.

The team of researchers, led by the University of Exeter, collected data from more than 18,000 people in 18 different countries.

They found that pressure put on patients by green prescriptions can undermine the potential benefits of being in contact with nature, and even induce anxiety.

Dr Michelle Tester-Jones, who led the research, said: “These findings are consistent with wider research that suggests that urban natural environments provide spaces for people to relax and recover from stress.

“However, they also demonstrate that healthcare practitioners and loved-ones should be sensitive when recommending time in nature for people who have depression and anxiety.

“It could be helpful to encourage them to spend more time in places that people already enjoy visiting, so they feel comfortable and can make the most of the experience.”

Dr Mathew White, who co-ordinated the international research team, added: “We had no idea just how much people with depression and anxiety were already using natural settings to help alleviate symptoms and manage their conditions.

“Our results provide even greater clarity about the value of these places to communities around the world, but also remind us that nature is no silver bullet and needs to be carefully integrated with existing treatment options.”

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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