Mental health and the green environment, by Gavin Atkins

Paul Harris/2020VISION

Part of our Mental Health Awareness Series: Gavin Atkins is Head of Community Programmes and Grants for Mind, overseeing a team that administers large scale projects with Mind’s network of 138 local Minds and the wider voluntary sector.

Many of us know of the benefits to our mental health and wellbeing of being outdoors, without really being aware. I know that for me personally, living in the countryside and having access to green spaces for myself and my children is really important. For others it can be the walk down the canal at lunchtime that clears their head, or the run through the park after work. We don’t talk about these as ways of managing our mental health, but we all know we feel better afterwards.

 

Volunteers Lizzie Wilberforce

Lizzie Wilberforce

At a time when commissioners face financial, social and environmental challenges in meeting the health needs of local people, nature based interventions need to be seriously considered as a preventative service, an early intervention, and treatment option – all in one service

For years Mind has advocated the benefits of the green space for better mental health. Our 2013 report, Feel Better Outside, Feel Better Inside drew together the findings from projects funded via the Big Lottery across England that utilised the power of nature for maintaining people’s wellbeing and improving their mental health. Evidence from that report and many others shows that these nature based interventions can improve people’s wellbeing and make them feel more connected to nature, their communities and other people. What the report shows is that green care is beneficial for everyone – but especially for people with a mental health problem or those at risk of developing one, offering focus and care that is person-centred, non-intrusive and empowering.

Take, for example, the story of Debbie. Debbie experienced depression and panic attacks as a result of workplace stress and struggled to find a new job or a GP who was able to help. Finally, she changed GPs and was referred to PoLLen, a group run at the Bromley by Bow Centre in East London. At the weekly sessions Debbie begun planting and digging in the garden, but just as importantly she became part of a group she felt welcome in.

As she says, “It felt like people were listening to me and they really understood what I had gone through. I didn’t get the same feeling anywhere else. I could leave my worries behind when I walked in: and leave feeling supported and encouraged.” Via the support PoLLen has provided, Debbie has now completed her levels one and two in horticulture and garden design and feels “not only has it improved my mental health and boosted my confidence, but I’ve also learnt new skills to enter into a new career, and I’ve also met so many new friends.”

At a time when commissioners face financial, social and environmental challenges in meeting the health needs of local people, nature based interventions need to be seriously considered as a preventative service, an early intervention, and treatment option – all in one service.

VOLUNTEER

To feel better outside and benefit your wellbeing, why not volunteer for your local Wildlife Trust? Research recently carried out by The University of Essex showed that volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts improved peoples’ mental wellbeing in 6 weeks.