Mental Health Awareness Week
Mental health should be prioritised all year round, as approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Mental Health Awareness Week aims to get people talking about their mental health and reduce the stigma that can stop people from asking for help.
This year The Mental Health Foundation have chosen to focus on nature as a way of promoting mental health throughout the week. They are encouraging people to connect to nature every day, whether this be through going for a walk, focusing on bird song our your window or sitting out in the garden – enjoying the sun. Nature is not specifically defined as going for miles long hikes through forests or running through the cross country trails; these both work, however, it can also mean other green spaces such as parks, woodland or forests as well as blue spaces like rivers, wetlands, beaches or canals. Surprisingly nature also includes trees growing on urban streets or in your back garden as well as indoor plants. Similarly, researchers believe that watching television nature programmes can improve our mental health too, by reducing negative emotions and helping to alleviate the boredom of being isolated indoors.
Nature can have many positive effects such as improving your mood; reducing the feelings of stress or anger; helping you take time out and feel more relaxed; improving your physical health; improving your confidence and self-esteem; helping you become more active; helping you to make new connections as well as providing peer support.
According to Mind nature can even have impacts on those diagnosed with mental health problems, spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. For example, research into ecotherapy (a type of formal treatment involving participation in outdoor activities, promoting not just mental but physical health also) has shown it can help with mild to moderate depression. This might be due to combining regular physical activity and social contact with being outside in nature, nonetheless, nature is shown to have such a positive impacts on our lives. Nature can also help to the extent that, being outside in natural light can also be helpful if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people during particular seasons or times of year. People have also been known to find that nature has helped with other types of mental health problems – however, often these vary individual to individual.
During lockdown, nature has played a vital part in supporting mental health. According to research carried out by The Mental Health Foundation, last summer nearly half of people (45%) in the UK said that being in nature was a favoured way to cope with the stress of the pandemic. At a time when anxiety and stress are at an all time high, experts say that spending as little as seven to 10 minutes outside can improve your wellbeing; the key is to find enjoyable ways to appreciate the outdoors mindfully and consistently.
We don’t always have to be in nature to further our relationship with the natural world: writing a poem about our favourite nature spot or reflecting on preferred walks help us consciously notice, consider and pause to appreciate the good things in nature. It is this compassion and consideration for nature that the Mental Health Foundation are encouraging you to think about this week in aid of Mental Health Awareness Week. Hopefully this too will in turn encourage people to get outside into green or blue spaces where they can in aid of supporting both their physical, mental health and wellbeing.
As well as getting out and enjoying the natural world as far as is possible, increasingly there are innovative services available that individuals can use to reach out should speaking to a friend, family member or helpline be an option that an individual does not wish to pursue at that moment in time. The social enterprise Group Hug offers an app staffed by volunteers who are available to discuss any subject with an individual who reaches out wishing to discuss how they are feeling. Founder Jonathan Greenwood describes the app as being “powered by volunteers and here to free your mind”. After a few initial standard questions when a user first starts a conversation on the app, a volunteer is allocated who can then enter into a discussion with the user. However, not all innovation has to take place via digital means and indeed not all individuals struggling with their mental health may want or feel comfortable using digital technology as a means of reaching out. Group Hug have recognized this and have developed ‘Dear Vina’ which offers the facility of being able to send a letter to Vina, ‘a 13 year old Lakeland terrier (that’s 91 in dog years!)’ who will read the letter and deliver a hand written response. Vina is happy to talk about anything from the last book that you may have read through to gardening, or baking, or your favourite TV show. Ultimately both services from Group Hug are there if an individual has something on their mind that they need to share they are able to do so in a medium of their choosing.
Group Hug is of course one of the plethora of organisations including social enterprises, charities and public health bodies that may be able to help if you are struggling with your mental health. Here are just a few of them:
Mental Health First Aid England https://mhfaengland.org/
Every Mind Matters – NHS https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/
No Panic https://nopanic.org.uk/
Anxiety UK https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/
Shout 85258 https://giveusashout.org/
Zero Suicide Alliance https://www.zerosuicidealliance.com/
Dear Vina https://www.grouphugapp.org/dear-vina/
Group Hug https://www.grouphugapp.org/