Nature was the theme of this year’s mental health awareness week.
During the long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature. Going for walks outside was one of the top coping strategies for many of us holed up in our homes. Research by The Mental Health Foundation found that 45% of participants reported that green spaces had been vital to the upkeep of our mental health. Websites which showed footage from webcams of wildlife saw hits increase by over 2000%! It seems that people not only spent more time in nature but were actively seeking it more.
Nature is so central to our psychological and emotional health, that it’s almost impossible to achieve good mental health for all without a greater connection to the natural world. Think about how good it feels to take a breath of fresh air after being cooped up all day? Imagine feeling like that all the time. That’s the power nature holds. It’s up to us to reach out and grab it.
For most of human history, we have lived as part of nature. It is only in the last five generations that so many of us have lived and worked in a setting that is largely separated from nature. Being surrounded by concrete can become monotonous and bring down our mood. Nature however, with its ever-changing state can serve to evolve the landscape and break the monotony of your day to day.
In fact, a 1960s study in the US found that patients who were treated in hospitals with a view of nature recovered faster. Since then, science has started to unpack the extraordinary health benefits of nature. It has the unique ability to not only bring consolation in times of stress, but also increase our creativity, empathy and a sense of wonder. It turns out that it is not just being in nature but how we open ourselves up and interact with nature that counts. Even a little contact with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health and preventing distress.
Nature is our great untapped resource for a mentally healthy future.
Despite many of us being aware of this, we are not accessing or benefitting from nature. It can be hard for those living in built up cities and for the 13% of UK households that have no access to a garden. Nature should not be a luxury. It is a resource that must be available for everyone to enjoy – as basic as having access to clean water or a safe roof over our heads.
Looking to the Future
2021 is going to be a huge year for nature: a new Environment Bill will go through the UK Parliament which will shape the natural world for generations to come; the UK will host the G7 nations where creating a greener future will be a key priority and a historic international UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be hosted in Glasgow in November.
There could not be a more important time to understand the links between nature and mental health.
So get out there and experience your natural surroundings. Take time to recognise and grow your connection with nature. Take a moment to notice and celebrate nature in your daily life. Try welcoming a minute of silence to just listen to the birds in the early morning (especially if you’re up early enough to catch the dawns chorus!)
‘There is something to be wondered at in all of Nature’ – Aristotle
For more information about this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk/mhaw.