Keep nature in mind on World Mental Health Day

Andy Bartlett

Dom Higgins, head of health and education for The Wildlife Trusts, reveals why nature is so important this World Mental Health Day.

This year, World Mental Health Day feels particularly important. In fact, I cannot remember one when it has felt more so. Looking back to the early days of lockdown, it felt new, uncertain – and somewhat isolating. Clearly, I wasn’t alone. Wildlife Trusts’ webcams experienced a 2000% increase in use.  We began to hear more and more stories of how much people missed nature, birdsong – and of course – each other. Social media was awash with it.

Then, as restrictions were lifted, how many of us arranged to meet up in outdoor, wild and natural spaces? Of course, being outdoors has shown to be a better bet than being indoors when it comes to living with Covid-19, but there was something innate, in all of us, that had a desire to re-connect with nature as well as with each other.

A natural solution

We feel happier when we are in places filled with wildlife.  There is also abundant evidence that demonstrates the benefits to our physical and mental health of spending time in nature. People with nature and green spaces on their doorstep are more active, mentally resilient and have better all-round health.

Where we live has a massive effect on our health and happiness. We need everyone to be able to access nature from their doorsteps.

Gavin Atkins, head of communities at Mind, the mental health charity, said: "Research by Mind and others has consistently shown getting out into nature is not only good for mental health but can also help address the social issues that come with having a mental health problem. It has been shown in some cases to be more effective – and cost less – than medication. Access to nature-based activities improves mental wellbeing, helps people to become more physically active, can give people the skills and confidence to get back into work or training and helps those who are lonely or socially isolated to connect with others.”

Nature’s recovery is more important than ever

There is certainly more to learn about the definitive origins of Coronavirus, but the breakdown in our relationship with nature seems to be at the heart of it.  Our personal connection with nature is declining; many people do not feel like part of the natural world or appreciate or value all it might offer.  The result is a lack of empathy for the plight of wildlife and their precious habitats, and a lack of empathy leads to inaction.

Today though, we are facing two linked crises that demand urgent action: the climate emergency and the steady decline of nature. The climate crisis is driving nature’s decline; the loss of wildlife and habitats leaves us ill-equipped to reduce our emissions and adapt to change.

Health harm from climate change is increasing and will affect people living in more deprived communities most, where there is also less nature; children in deprived areas are nine times less likely to have access to green space and places to play.

The Wildlife Trusts want to change this.  We must bring nature back into our daily lives. All of our lives; and this needs big ideas. That’s why we are working to put nature into recovery across at least 30% of land and sea by 2030.

We know more about what to expect when local lockdowns happen today and over the coming months. Some of us can see wildlife from our windows or take a walk through nearby woods; but there are many who do not have this privilege. Where we live has a massive effect on our health and happiness. We need everyone to be able to access nature from their doorsteps. How can this be done? One way is by rewilding the planning system – so that nature’s recovery is built into the Government’s proposed changes – and then experiences with nature will not be so restricted.

People’s personal experiences matter. In Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s new film, Jess tells her story and the incredible impact that being in nature has for her mental health and wellbeing - how many people do you know like Jess? 

Make time for yourself and wildlife this World Mental Health Day. I hope it’s a happy one for you.