There is growing evidence that ecosystem services and especially the exposure to the natural world (blue-green spaces) have potential benefits for mental health and well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures adopted to control it provide a natural experiment to investigate the links between nature exposure and mental health under extreme conditions. Using a survey distributed online, we tested the following hypotheses: 1) People will show greater symptoms of depression and anxiety under lockdown conditions that did not allow contact with outdoor nature spaces; 2) Where access to public outdoor nature spaces was strictly restricted, (2a) those with green/blue nature view or (2b) access to private outdoor spaces such as a garden or balcony will show fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and a more positive mood. Based on 5218 responses from 9 countries, we found that lockdown severity significantly affected mental health, while contact with nature helped people to cope with these impacts, especially for those under strict lockdown. People under strict lockdown in Spain (3403 responses), perceived that nature helped them to cope with lockdown measures; and emotions were more positive among individuals with accessible outdoor spaces and blue-green elements in their views. These findings can help decision-makers in developing potential future lockdown measures to mitigate the negative impacts, helping people to be more resilient and maintain better mental health, using the benefits that ecosystem services are providing us.
Keywords: Anxiety; Depression; Ecosystem services; Green-blue infrastructure; nature's contributions to people.
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