Countryside Helps Mental Health

BY NICK PEARCE

One interesting development yesterday on Mental Health Day was how the countryside was being touted as the route out of depression and back to good health. Nature “prescriptions” by GPs could be a cheaper way to improve the UK’s mental health, a pioneering new study found – research conducted by Leeds Beckett University found that swapping regular prescriptions for nature activities could save nearly £7 for every £1 invested in projects.

Overall, the study found that, after spending five to six hours outside every week, 95% of people who had low mental wellbeing improved within just six weeks. People suffering with anxiety, stress and depression reported feeling physically and emotionally better after taking part in outdoor projects such habitat protection or clearing a pond. The study also calculated that there is an £8.50 social return for every £1 invested in regular nature volunteering projects, which helps tackle issues such as loneliness.

Dom Higgins, nature and wellbeing manager at The Wildlife Trusts told The Independent. “We want to see the concept of nature on prescription becoming a core part of the NHS mental well-being programmes. This new report shows the enormous value of a natural health service. It’s also important to have more investment in Wildlife Trust outdoor volunteering which has been proven to improve mental, physical and social wellbeing. In addition, we need many more wild, natural places near to where people live and work. That way, green prescribing can be rolled-out everywhere.”

Dr Amir Khan, a GP and health ambassador for The Wildlife Trusts also commented on the study. He said: “If more people could access nature programmes, I believe that we would see a knock-on effect in our GP surgeries, with fewer people attending for help with preventable or social problems arising from being cut off from others, not getting active or having a purpose.”

Researchers at Leeds Beckett analysed the social value of Wildlife Trusts’ nature conservation projects which offer outdoor volunteering opportunities and programmes that support people experiencing problems such as anxiety, stress or mild depression. The report draws on the conclusions of three years research which found that people participating in both sorts of outdoor nature conservation activities felt significantly better, both emotionally and physically, as a result. They needed, for example, fewer visits to GPs or felt more able to get back into work.

Professor Anne-Marie Bagnall, from Leeds Beckett University’s School of Health & Community Studies said: “Our analysis of the impacts on people taking part in Wildlife Trusts’ nature conservation activities shows an excellent social return on investment for people with all levels of wellbeing. We can therefore say with confidence that, based on evidence from independent research, these programmes can be effective in both maintaining good wellbeing and tackling poor wellbeing arising from social issues such as loneliness, inactivity and poor mental health. The significant return on investment of conservation activities in nature means that they should be encouraged as part of psychological wellbeing interventions.”

The question underlining all this is why is there a need for investment in the first place? Why should the NHS be stumping up funds for patients to go venture into the countryside.

This is a welcome study but it’s stating the obvious – which we’ve known for years. That God made the country and man made the town….

[T]here is no practice… which tends to renovate the constitution, than a temporary retirement to the country…

John Sinclair, The Code of Health and Longevity, c.1815
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