It’s World Mental Health Day today and we’re celebrating how connecting people with nature can
improve our mental health.
We are all a part of the natural ecosystem; not only does every resource we physically need come from the natural environment, but nature enriches our lives in ways unique to each of us – whether it’s walking the dog in the park every morning, growing fruit and vegetables in the garden, noticing
the quirks of the birds on the feeder, snacking on blackberries on an evening walk, or taking the kids to the lakeside to feed the ducks.
And so it’s no surprise that a multitude of benefits come from time spent in nature – a report from Natural England found that taking part in nature-based activities reduces the levels of anxiety, depression and stress in people with mental illnesses. Not only that, taking part in nature-based activities has been shown to increase your social confidence and improve your sense of self-worth and belonging within your community *1.
The importance of nature for your mental wellbeing has been recognised by the Government in their 25 Year Environment Plan: “Spending time in the natural environment – as a resident or a visitor – improves our mental health and feelings of wellbeing. It can combat loneliness and bind communities together.” *2*3
Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust is doing just this through the Wild at Heart project. Wild at Heart is a welcoming community-project for over-50s which uses nature-themed activities to help support and connect people with nature and with their community.
Each weekly session is based around the ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’ used by MIND and the NHS – connect with people around us and share our wild experiences, be active by exploring our local green spaces, keep learning through nature and picking up new skills, be mindful by stopping and ppreciating the beautiful natural world around us, and give to others by supporting each other.
Wild at Heart makes use of local green spaces that are accessible to all, and fun, simple hobby-based activities that everyone can pick up and enjoy! In the past we have carved wooden crafts, cooked up soups and pestos using foraged herbs, planted wildflowers for bees, and learnt about the trees and
plants that line our streets!
We can gain so much from spending time in the natural world, and you don’t have to climb to the top of the Peak District to reap the rewards – a relaxed walk around your favourite local park is all it takes to improve your mental wellbeing.
*1 Connecting with nature offers a new approach to mental health care: Natural England, Gov.uk, 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/connecting-with-nature-offers-a-new-approach-to-mental- health-care
*2 Evidence statement on the links between the natural environment and human health (The University of Exeter and Defra, 2017) https://beyondgreenspace.net/2017/03/09/defra-evidence-statement-on-the-links-between-natural-environments-and-human-health/
*3 Urban Green Spaces and Health: World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe, 2016, 9-10