A qualitative exploration of the contribution of blue space to wellbeing in the lives of people with severe mental illness

Kim Wright*, Samantha Eden, Anna Hancox, Danielle Windget, Lewis Elliot, Zoe Glossop, Gordon Johnston, Rose Johnston, Fiona Lobban, Christopher Lodge, Jasper Palmier-Claus, Sally Parkin, Piran Crawfurd Limond White, Sarah Bell

*Corresponding author for this work

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1. The majority of research into the mental health benefits of blue space (outdoor places where water is a central feature) has focussed on the associations between neighbourhood exposure to these spaces and population-level incidence of unipolar depression or anxiety disorder. There has been little exploration of the therapeutic use of blue space by those navigating bipolar, schizophrenia or other psychotic conditions. Knowledge arising from such an exploration could assist in the design and optimisation of nature-based care for people with these conditions, as well as with self-management.
2. We conducted semi-structured online and telephone interviews with 19 adults who self-reported experience of these conditions. Interviews were conducted in the U.K. from August to December 2021.
3. We describe four of the key interpretive themes identified via an in-depth inductive thematic analysis of the interview transcripts to highlight how participants sought out moments of affective sanctuary through their blue encounters. Blue spaces were described as having the potential to reset the mind, emotions and body. This was in part due to their socially undemanding nature, and ability to provide respite from a socially stressful world.
4. Participants described developing a blue identity, whereby a sense of attachment to and shared history with these places was articulated as well as incorporating blue spaces into self- and emotion-regulation practices. Finally, participants described experiences of and recommendations for a therapeutic blue intervention. The role of biodiversity in contributing to the benefits of blue spaces was implied primarily in terms of perceived soundscapes, but also through visual observations.
5. Synthesis and applications: blue care for people with bipolar, schizophrenia or other psychotic conditions should consider the need that some individuals have for solitude and proximity to their home when they visit blue spaces, as well as individual differences in the features of blue space interactions that provide the greatest benefit.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalPeople and Nature
Early online date29 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Feb 2024

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