The relationship between environment and well-being

By John Sepp

Mental health has been propelled to prominence during the pandemic, and with newfound social isolation comes a need to reflect on how drastically our environment shapes our well-being. 

I have noticed this personally living in an apartment in downtown Ann Arbor. I love being around my two roommates whom I have known since high school, yet it constantly feels like something is different from how it used to be. As I began to look for answers about why I feel more under the weather recently, I’ve noticed a few things. Perhaps it is the fact that our windows face the other side of the building, with no view of the street, trees, or even just other people walking along the sidewalk. This, along with how small the apartment is, has created a feeling of confinement that has negatively impacted my mental clarity, energy, and overall mood (despite being around my friends.) In addition, this is my last semester here at the University of Michigan, and I have just one class to walk to per week.

I value being able to investigate these possible causes behind this newfound deterioration in my well-being, and I truly believe that recognizing the importance of our environment is one of the best things we can do for ourselves to start the process of improving our well-being. 

This article from Global News Canada highlights this need for reflecting on the environment we live in. The article describes a new scheme in British Columbia where doctors can prescribe national park passes to treat patients’ physical and psychological health needs. Today, I see the problem of mental health being treated like a checklist. We come into the doctor’s office, tell our story, and are given medications like SSRIs, benzodiazepines, therapy sessions and checked off the list. All of these may be effective depending on the person and situation, yet too frequently we run into the problem of temporary relief rather than a permanent beneficial change in our lives. Having doctors prescribe “mental health park passes” is a unique treatment option that shifts the focus to our physical environment, and provides opportunities down the line such as increased socialization that can offer a more long lasting, non-traditional, approach to solving the mental health crisis that plagues the world in such a critical time.

John is a senior at UM studying Biology, Health and Society (BHS). His favorite courses have been immunology, sociology, and public health, and he plans on going to graduate school in one of these areas in the coming year. He has taken an increased interest in mental health because of COVID, seeing how much it has affected our society just as much as our physical health.

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