Background: Greenspace programmes are health projects run outside in nature, typically with the aim of improving mental health. Research suggests that programmes may also be effective in supporting people with problem substance use (PSU), but there is limited understanding of the key components that make them successful for this client group. Previous work has claimed that a realist-informed intervention framework for greenspace programmes for mental health could be transferable to programmes that support people with PSU, and that this could provide insight into the causal processes within programmes. However, this claim is yet to be explored in depth. The aim of this study was to further test, refine, and consolidate the proposed framework to show how greenspace programmes could support people with PSU.

Methods: Using a realist approach, 17 participants (8 programme staff; 9 wider stakeholders) were interviewed about contexts, mechanisms, and outcomes (CMOs) relative to greenspace programmes for mental health and PSU. Semi-structured interviews were used since they facilitated exploration of the proposed framework but were flexible enough to allow identification of new CMOs for framework refinement. Interviews were audio-recorded, fully transcribed , and analysed inductively and deductively against the proposed framework.

Results: Findings supported the proposed framework and indicated that greenspace programmes support people with poor mental health and PSU due to: feelings of escape; space to reflect; physical activity; self-efficacy; feelings of purpose; relationships; and shared experiences. However, data showed that programmes must also consider: explicit intervention focus to ensure adequate support for clients; existing challenges with funding and stakeholder buy-in; and the impact of COVID-19. Findings allowed development of a refined framework that shows how greenspace programmes can support people with PSU.

Conclusion: The findings of this project are theoretically novel and have practical relevance for those designing greenspace programmes by providing recommendations on how to optimise, tailor, and implement future interventions. Findings could be particularly relevant for academic researchers, multidisciplinary health professionals, and for those working in the third sector, developing and delivering greenspace programmes for people to improve their mental health and to support them with PSU.


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Cite as

Masterton, W., Parkes, T., Carver, H. & Park, K. 2022, 'Exploring how greenspace programmes might be effective in supporting people with problem substance use: a realist interview study', BMC Public Health, 22(1), article no: 1661. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-022-14063-2

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Last updated: 22 September 2022
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