Feel better outside, Feel better inside

Wednesday 23rd October 2013

Ecotherapy works!

The Wildlife Trusts call for recognition of the benefits of ecotherapy for mental health problems and wellbeing

Wildlife Trusts across the UK run ecotherapy projects to benefit people’s health and wellbeing.  Today we support - and have contributed to - new research into the benefits of ecotherapy and urge those in charge of local mental health, social care and public health services to ensure it is available for people with or at risk of developing a mental health problem.

Our work adds to a growing body of evidence of the benefits of nature to our mental and physical health and wellbeing

Ecotherapy helps people to look after their mental health by getting active outdoors, gardening, food growing or undertaking environmental conservation work supported by trained professionals.  Some of the ecotherapy schemes run by The Wildlife Trusts were part of the mental health charity Mind’s Ecominds projects supported by the Big Lottery Fund, through which 130 programmes introduced more than 12,000 people with mental health problems to ecotherapy.

Mind has today released Feel Better Outside, Feel Better Inside, a report including new findings from the University of Essex showing the many benefits of ecotherapy for mental wellbeing.  It has been proven to improve mental health, boost self esteem, help people with mental health problems return to work, improve physical health, and reduce social isolation.

Key findings reveal that:
• Mind’s Ecominds scheme helped 254 people find full-time employment with potential annual savings and contributions to the State of £1.46 million.
• Introducing just five people with mental health problems to ecotherapy saved the State more than £35,000 each year in costs for medication, Jobseeker’s Allowance, and healthcare.
• Seven in ten (69%) people experienced significant increases in wellbeing by the time they left the Ecominds project.
• Three in five (57%) felt that there were more people in their lives who cared about them and they met more often with friends and relatives.
• Four in five (81%) got more involved in community activities and felt connected to where they live.
• Men are less likely than women to seek help for mental health problems  and ecotherapy is a great way to engage them in wellbeing services - men formed three in five (56%) of Ecominds participants .

Mind found from a survey of GPs working across England and Wales that even though over half agreed that ecotherapy is a valid and suitable treatment for anxiety (52%) and depression (51%), nearly three in five (56%) said they need to see more evidence of the benefits of ecotherapy to refer confidently .

Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, Stephanie Hilborne OBE, said: 

“Being closer to nature enhances our lives.  Our strong partnership with Mind is making this link increasingly clear.  Our work adds to a growing body of evidence of the benefits of nature to our mental and physical health and wellbeing.  By engaging with Wildlife Trust projects, people of all ages and with a range of mental health problems have been given a new lease of life: enjoying contact with nature, finding new friends and developing new skills. But project funding is ending - and surely this work is not about projects anyway but about a shift in our approach to mental health.  Ecotherapy must become mainstream if the NHS is to choose the most cost-effective route for treating many forms of mental illness.  The leading edge of health professionals are recognising this and saving public money by choosing nature therapy for their patients.”

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

“Our research shows people commissioning mental health services and social care that a holistic treatment like ecotherapy delivers not only health benefits, but wider social benefits and cost savings that medication could not. Ecotherapy improves mental wellbeing, it helps people to become more physically active, it gives people the skills to get back into work or training, and it helps people who are lonely or socially isolated to broaden their networks. These are all important factors that can prevent people developing a mental health problem to start with.

“Last year a staggering fifty million antidepressant prescriptions were issued and currently one in five people with mental health problems have to wait up to a year to access talking treatments. When growing numbers of people are affected by mental health problems each year and they’re telling us that they want more options than drugs, now is the time for commissioners across health, social care and public health to take a fresh look at this evidence and realise the long-term benefits that holistic treatments like ecotherapy can deliver.”

To read Mind’s Feel Better Outside, Feel Better Inside report and the Ecominds scheme visit www.mind.org.uk/ecotherapyworks.

To find out more about The Wildlife Trusts’ health and wellbeing projects please visit http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/health_and_wellbeing.

Tagged with: Ecotherapy