We started our SIL 25k mile challenge not only as a celebration of our 25 years in care but also as a way to encourage staff, friends and service users to feel the benefits of exercise on mental well-being. Many of us were suffering from stress, anxiety and depression as a result of the pandemic. And so, as the Mental Health Foundation launched the theme behind this year’s campaign as ‘Connect with Nature’ we could see endless possibilities of how we could reap the benefits. A double whammy of a mental well-being pursuits!
The weather isn’t improving as much as we’d like but there are still plenty of opportunities for taking your exercise out into the big wide world and get a dose of nature too. Perhaps a walk, yoga in the garden or simply gardening. Bluebells are bobbing their little heads across the countryside this month and birds are tweeting merrily away; so many beautiful sights to take in as you tot up a few miles.
During long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature. MHF research on the mental health impacts of the pandemic showed going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health. Websites which showed footage from webcams of wildlife saw hits increase by over 2000%. Wider studies also found that during lockdowns, people not only spent more time in nature but were noticing it more.
It was as if we were re-discovering at our most fragile point our fundamental human need to connect with nature. And it is only since a 1960s study in the US found that patients who were treated in hospitals with a view of nature recovered faster, that science has started to unpack the extraordinary health benefits.
During Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we will pull together the evidence that demonstrates the powerful benefits of nature for our mental health. We will look at nature’s 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. We will show that even small contacts 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 this, many of us are not accessing or benefitting from nature. Teenagers in particular appear to be less connected with nature and around 13% of UK households have no access to a garden. We want to challenge the disparities in who is and who isn’t able to experience nature. Nature is not 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. Local and national governments need to consider their role in making this a reality for everyone, and we will be talking about how they can do so during the week.
We invite you to #ConnectWithNature and share what this means for you.