Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environmental Sciences

First Advisor

Ellen M. Douglas

Second Advisor

Lorena M. Estrada-Martínez

Third Advisor

C. Eduardo Siqueira


The interplay between mental health and nature has gained much attention lately, with a growing body of literature suggesting the multiple positive impacts of nature on our psychological well-being. This rapidly urbanizing world with projections of further increased mental health issues rates, especially within urban environments, along with the negative impacts of climate change on our mental health and our continuously diminished nature experience, indicates the need for empirical understanding of the potential positive impacts from nature to mental health.

Drawing upon interdisciplinary research from environmental science and psychology, this dissertation explores the potential mental health benefits people obtain from nature and how these can be incorporated into the ecosystem services paradigm. This dissertation aims to underscore the importance of considering nature, emphasizing urban nature features as a valuable resource for promoting our mental health. With this understanding, this study consists of four chapters; introduction, literature review, conceptualizing mental health ecosystem services, and a case study conducted in Dorchester, Boston, Massachusetts.

Chapter 1 introduces the basic terms and concepts used as well as the rationale of the study. Chapter 2 consists of a systematic literature review exploring ways studies using the ecosystem services Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (M.E.A.) (2005) classification incorporate aspects of mental health benefits other than the ones M.E.A. (2005) covers. This was done to assess the state of the field and better understand how scholars are currently using it to develop a more holistic approach to studying the mental health benefits in the frame of ecosystem services. This work contributed to developing the following chapters' purpose and design.

Chapter 3 systematically conceptualizes the mental health ecosystem services and provides a classification to study nature's positive effects on our psychological well-being. This chapter suggests the differentiation of the primary and secondary mental health benefits that can potentially be obtained from nature, and we provide a step-by-step framework for studying, classifying, and assessing the psychological ecosystem services.

Chapter 4 includes a case study in one of Boston, MA's most nature-deprived, socio-economically vulnerable, diverse communities. We tested the framework suggested in previous chapters to assess potential positive correlations between urban nature exposure and mental health. We used public participatory map-based survey tools and employed our survey in 2023, collaborating with local organizations and community groups. Finally, in Chapter 5 we discuss the overall conclusions of the dissertation, suggest ways of improving this type of study and provide ideas for future research in this field.


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