Can beekeeping improve mental wellbeing during times of crisis?

Mental ill health is a growing problem in Australia and has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Common consequences of disease outbreaks include anxiety and panic, depression, anger, confusion and uncertainty, and financial stress, with estimates of 25% to 33% of the community experiencing high levels of worry and anxiety during similar pandemics (Black Dog Institute, 2022).

Since 2017, GPs across Australia have rated mental health as the most common presentation they see (RACGP Health of the Nation, 2021). We also know that approximately 20% of patients consult their GP for what are primarily social problems.

Social prescribing, which has been introduced widely in the UK and is being successfully trialled in Canada and Singapore, offers a system of support and guidance for people struggling with chronic conditions to connect with their community, counter loneliness, depression and anxiety and improve their overall health outcomes by taking up simple but therapeutic activities including group walking, reading groups and group event art classes, as just a few examples.

Researchers from the University of Sussex Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects have explored how beekeeping has benefited mental health and wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Below is an excerpt from Can Beekeeping Improve Mental Wellbeing during Times of Crisis? By Dr Karin Alton and Dr Francis Ratnieks. Originally published in Bee World Volume 99, 2022 and republished here with permission.


The benefits of beekeeping have been well documented over the years; keeping bees can help the economy, provide a great sense of community, and can teach children about the value of nature. Bees are fascinating to study, and for many people being part of a natural process in which honey bees pollinate flowers and crops, and create honey, is deeply gratifying.

As we entered the decade dramatically marred by the Covid-19 pandemic, many of these benefits may have become even clearer.

As a consequence of social distancing, people across the world became more and more isolated, impacting both their physical and mental health.

When the UK first entered lockdown in spring 2020, the weather was kind, and people spent more time in their gardens, walking along streets and in parks during the allowed exercise time. As 84% of people live in urban areas, the benefits of this access to greenspace, particularly with trees, became all too clear. Research suggests that people who live in neighbourhoods with a higher density of trees on their streets report a significantly higher perception of their health (Kardan et al., 2015). A study using data from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey highlighted the importance of domestic gardens for wellbeing (de Bell et al., 2020). People with access to a private space such as a balcony, garden or patio were more likely to confirm that both gardening and using a garden to relax in resulted in better health, more physical activity, and more nature visits than those who did not. The study suggests that domestic gardens are a potential health resource and should be a consideration alongside other green spaces in urban planning matters.

As the lockdown progressed, many people had time to turn to new hobbies to help keep the mind active, including beekeeping and bee-based interests. Anne Rowberry, chair of the British Beekeepers Association, says that many amateur beekeepers are not just interested in selling honey, but are genuinely fascinated by honey bees. She adds that there is huge value in sitting quietly just watching the bees go about their business (Hunt, 2020).

As the Covid-19 pandemic has progressed, this ‘value’ of sitting quietly has been repeatedly voiced. Being quiet and contemplative features in many aspects of mindfulness, a practice which is rapidly becoming mainstream. Mindfulness involves paying more attention to the present moment, one’s thoughts and feelings, and the world around us. It can help getting to know oneself better, stop engaging with harmful thoughts or behaviours, and to become happier by enjoying our surroundings more. Traditional mindfulness practices include meditation, yoga, tai chi and other forms of ancient contemplation. The ethos of being aware of the present, sitting quietly and observing the world around you is increasingly being recognised as a valuable tool in alleviating mental health problems such as depression, trauma and anxiety.

There is no doubt being sociable and part of a community has health benefits for our wellbeing. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Australia’s first community apiary for people with mental health issues, including returned servicemen and women with PTSD, was initiated in Ballarat (Whelan, 2020). The HiveMind Community Apiary is based on the Canadian model, Hives for Humanity, and is a way to reconnect people to nature and themselves.

It is clear that whether classroom learning about bees or tending the honey bees together in the apiary, beekeeping brings a much needed social aspect to many peoples’ lives. This social interaction has largely been absent during the lockdowns.

With Covid restrictions now easing, some normality to our daily activities is resuming. However, it is hoped that the pandemic proves to have helped people generally have a better connection with nature. In a Natural England ‘People and Nature’ survey (July 2020) almost half the population (46%) said that they were spending more time outside than before COVID-19, with 42% of adults reporting that ‘nature and wildlife is more important than ever to my wellbeing’ (Natural England, 2021). The survey also found that for nearly a quarter of the population, watching wildlife was the second most-popular activity.

Whether walking, spending time in your garden, or watching your bees, the likelihood of reporting good health or high wellbeing from spending time in natural environments becomes significantly greater with contact of over 2 hours per week (White et al., 2019). As more science-based evidence emerges on the value of mindfulness and being outdoors to a patient’s general health, the NHS (National Health Service) is increasingly prescribing time in nature and in community gardens, referred to as ‘green prescribing’, to improve a patient’s anxiety levels (Black, 2019). Results also suggest that this kind of prescribing can lead to a reduction in the use of NHS services, which is ideal during times of acute pressure on the health service.

Although it is clear from the personal contributions to this article that beekeeping has helped immensely during the time of the Covid-19 crisis, more scientific research is needed to quantify the actual wellbeing effects.


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