Countryside & the Mind

BY RICHARD DEAN

The Victorians recommended a brisk walk in the countryside or beside the sea for those who suffered from depression and melancholy. Now, it seems that research has proven their advice to be sound.

Being outside in the countryside has huge benefits for people suffering with mental health issues, research reveals. A three-year study by experts at the University of Brighton has found the likes of walks, beachcombing and carrying out conservation tasks can drastically improve mental health.

Psychologists evaluated the effects of interventions offered by the Sussex-based charity Grow which runs activities including guided nature walks, shepherding and beachcombing.

The activities, many supported by the National Trust, also include time for participants to just sit and talk or to be silent in a countryside environment.

The psychologists gathered testimony and responses from almost 100 participants across three years of the programme.

The results showed 88 per cent experienced a significant or great benefit to their mental health after an eight-week Grow season and the other 12 per cent reported some benefit.

Participants’ wellbeing scores jumped by 57 per cent from before they joined Grow.

Three indicators of well-being – self-esteem and confidence, coping with stress and anxiety, and a sense of belonging and community – saw the highest increases.

Dr Julie Morgan, University of Brighton senior lecturer in psychology, said: “This represents notably significant increases and, what is more, there were long-lasting benefits. Months after the survey, over three-quarters of participants reported they had engaged with volunteering, work, training or education. Participants consistently articulated an increased sense of hopefulness and resilience as they look to the future as a result.”

One participant reported: “I have absolutely loved the whole experience – it’s changed my life. I have been so anxious – I have struggled to go out for the past couple of years. I have looked out of the window and craved the peace and silence of nature – and just not had the energy, motivation or courage to leave the flat.”

If you start feeling down as autumn falls upon us, put on your walking boots and venture into the countryside. It could prove just the tonic you require.

 

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