Watching or listening to birds can help boost mental wellbeing, even for those with depression – BBC Science Focus Magazine


Worldwide study using smartphone app uncovers mood-lifting effect of birds and birdsong.
Here’s an easy way to make yourself feel a bit chirpier: seeing or listening to birds can improve our mental wellbeing, a study carried out by researchers at King’s College London has found. The benefits are seen even in those diagnosed with depression, they say.
The finding is based on data collected by a smartphone app named Urban Mind that was developed by King’s College London, landscape architects J&L Gibbons and the arts foundation Nomad Projects. The app was downloaded by almost 1,300 volunteers from the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States between April 2018 and October 2021.
Each day, the volunteers were sent three notifications by the app that asked them whether they could see or hear birds nearby, followed by a short questionnaire designed to assess their mental wellbeing.
The team found that the volunteers reported an increase in mental wellbeing whenever they were able to see birds or hear birdsong.
“There is growing evidence on the mental health benefits of being around nature and we intuitively think that the presence of birdsong and birds would help lift our mood,” said lead researcher Ryan Hammoud, of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London.
“However, there is little research that has actually investigated the impact of birds on mental health in real-time and in a real environment.
“We hope this evidence can demonstrate the importance of protecting and providing environments to encourage birds, not only for biodiversity but for our mental health.”
The app also collected information on existing diagnoses of mental health conditions and found that the mood-boosting effect was still seen even in volunteers who were diagnosed with depression. The effect was also still present when the researchers took into account any potential benefits on wellbeing provided by being in nature.
“The term ecosystem services is often used to describe the benefits of certain aspects of the natural environment on our physical and mental health,” said co-researcher Prof Andrea Mechelli, of IoPPN, King’s College London.
“However, it can be difficult to prove these benefits scientifically. Our study provides an evidence base for creating and supporting biodiverse spaces that harbour birdlife, since this is strongly linked with our mental health.
“In addition, the findings support the implementation of measures to increase opportunities for people to come across birdlife, particularly for those living with mental health conditions such as depression.”
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Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.
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