Nature tourism: The key to improve the mental well-being of the university community
Last Monday, June 19, the results of the project entitled "Mental well-being based on nature tourism experiences in scholarship students of the Universities of Cuenca and Azuay" were presented. This event was attended by authorities, teachers, researchers, students and responsible for the University Wellbeing departments of the Universities of Cuenca and Azuay, as well as representatives of the Municipal Foundation of Tourism for Cuenca.
The objective of this presentation was to share the most relevant findings of a project that lasted almost two years. Its main purpose was to promote leisure and recreation in students who were in a situation of vulnerability and who experienced high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. The proposal consisted of offering them tourist experiences in direct contact with nature. An initiative that managed to integrate the Psychology and Tourism departments, thus demonstrating that outdoor activities, in natural environments, can reduce negative psychological factors. In addition, these actions allowed the linkage with actors of the local communities to generate new products that dynamize the tourist offer of their territories.
The project began with the identification of scholarship students from both universities, in order to analyze their symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. For this purpose, the DASS21 test was applied to collect data from the scholarship students of the Universities of Cuenca and Azuay. After a rigorous analysis, 67 students were selected to participate in a field trip to the Área de Conservación Municipal Tinajillas - Río Gualaceño in Limón Indanza. The results of this first experience demonstrated that activities in contact with nature have the capacity to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression in people suffering from these disorders.
Six months after the experience, a new evaluation of the students was carried out to verify the evolution of the symptoms in this period of time. To the surprise of the research team, it was observed that the symptoms of the students evaluated remained stable despite the passage of time. These results were encouraging, as they confirm the benefits of nature tourism and its prevalence over time.
The positive results obtained in this project open the possibility of replicating these studies in other faculties, with the purpose of seeking leisure and recreational alternatives for students. The actions carried out in this project are a clear example of the hard work done by the researchers to generate solutions that benefit the university community. Thus, the project team encouraged the authorities of both universities to support new research-linkage initiatives related to mental well-being, in order to develop tourism itineraries that contribute to improving the well-being of populations with high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. These positive results support the importance of considering nature tourism as an effective strategy to address the emotional and psychological challenges faced by students in their academic life.
Furthermore, it is essential to highlight that the findings of this project not only have implications at the local level but also open doors for future research and collaborations at the regional and national levels. The integration of the Psychology and Tourism departments has proven to be a promising approach to addressing undergraduate mental health and is an inspiring example of how different disciplines can come together to make a positive impact on the community.
Photo credits: PREIT-tour