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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Case study:

Healthy Parks Healthy People

Healthy Parks Healthy People

Healthy Parks Healthy People was established by Parks Victoria in 2000 and has now become a global movement highlighting how human health and the health of nature are linked. More specifically, it promotes the many health and wellbeing benefits of connecting with nature, with a strong focus on mental health.

Parks Victoria leads implementation of the Healthy Parks Healthy People Framework, building cross‑sector partnerships to connect people to parks for health and wellbeing benefits. Partners include environment, community and health sector organisations, corporate and philanthropic organisations, different levels of government, research partners, volunteers and a wide range of service providers.

Tony Varcoe, Director, Community Programs at Parks Victoria described the sorts of activities Parks Victoria and its partners use to promote parks as positive settings for mental health.

Focus areas include nature‑based activities (e.g. Junior Ranger, outdoor education, mindfulness in nature) to build positive child and youth mental health and resilience, encouraging park activities for healthy and active ageing (e.g. volunteering and walking), providing nature trails for people with dementia or sensory issues, nature‑based programs for new migrants and refugees, improving experiences in nature for people with a disability (e.g. all abilities camping and all‑terrain ‘Trail Rider’ wheelchairs) and partnering with Traditional Owners to facilitate access to Country for improved wellbeing.

The Heathy Parks Healthy People Framework contributes to outcomes for Victoria’s Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2019–2023, including ‘improving mental wellbeing’. It includes short‑ and medium‑term measures to assess the physical and mental health outcomes of target populations that are attributable to parks and nature.

The Healthy Parks Healthy People Framework is underpinned by the Victorian Memorandum for Health and Nature, a statement co‑signed in 2017 by the Minister for Health and the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change to provide stronger connections between environment and health policy.

Mr Varcoe said an interdepartmental working group was set up to develop improved collaboration within government and to deliver the intent of the Memorandum.

The Working Group, including representatives from Parks Victoria, Sport and Recreation Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning and the Department of Health and Human Services, has initially been a small and focussed group looking to identify short to medium‑term collaboration opportunities. The structure is flexible and seeks to engage both government officers and decision‑makers to support integrated policy and programs.

Mr Varcoe said these connections had also informed policy changes to support mutual outcomes. This includes stronger recognition of the role of parks and open spaces in the Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2019–2023 and also recognition of the health and wellbeing benefits of valuing nature in Protecting Victoria’s Environment ‑ Biodiversity 2037, Victoria’s plan to stop the decline of native plants and animals and improve our natural environment.

Source: RCVMHS, Interview with Tony Varcoe, November 2020; Parks Victoria, Healthy Parks Healthy People, [accessed 20 November 2020]; Healthy Parks Healthy People Framework, Parks Victoria, 2020.

Photo credit: Parks Victoria