Mental Health & the Countryside

BY NICK PEARCE

There are 26.9 million people who walk for leisure and travel in Britain today but there are still plenty who are not heeding medical advice and getting out and about using their two feet. Amongst them are those suffering from mental illness, who are either too scared to leave their homes or cannot find the motivation, especially during this pandemic, to venture outside. Exercising in a forest or woodland is beneficial to mental health, while walking in the countryside can help boost self-esteem, a recent study has found.

According to a survey by mental health charity Mind, 94% of respondents reported that spending time in green spaces for exercise or relaxation had a positive impact on their mental health. The Forestry Commission, working in partnership with Mind, developed ‘Feel Good Autumn’, which aims to boost wellbeing with mindfulness tips, events and workshops and encouraged people to spend more time in forests in a bid to improve wellbeing.

One man who was too scared to leave his home was Trevor Parsons. Talking to the magazine’s Deputy Editor, Trevor recounted his experiences with depression and the Great Outdoors:

“I’ve had two mental breakdowns in my life. One in the 90s – my last one was in 2013/14. I was being forced to do something at work which I wasn’t trained or insured to do. I was constantly worried. I was not eating, and I was lucky if I was getting 30 minutes sleep a night. Your body can’t cope with that for long. So I ended up breaking down at work crying, and my parents had to pick me up from work. They didn’t see me for 10 months after that. I kept spiralling into Paranoia, Depression and Anxiety. In the end my parents had to take me to their home but I carried on getting worse. I ended up having the Wimborne mental health team in my home. A fast response paramedic car was the only way I could break out of the cycle. I went into St Ann’s hospital in Poole. I was committed but I wouldn’t have really cared if I have to be honest. They were fantastic in St Ann’s. They were so dedicated and caring I ended going in there twice. When I was discharged I was scared to go outside my parents just about got me to my doctors . My Doctor knew of my love of nature and photography and she suggested that I set my timer for 5 mins on my iPhone, walk down to Bournemouth gardens and take some photos. That when my timer goes off, I should go home and write in a diary what I saw and how I felt and increase my time outside when I felt more comfortable. It took me two weeks. I finally got back down to Bournemouth beach and I can’t describe the feeling I got there when I smelt, saw and heard the sea. In 2018 I decided to tell my story and the response I’ve had is fantastic from other people telling me their story and joining me on my journey of telling my story and celebrities encouraging me every step of the way. Since then I’ve been raising the awareness of how good nature and photography are for our mental wellbeing. I’ve an exhibition at the Hengistbury Head visitor centre garden at the moment and I’ve an exhibition at the Lyndhurst heritage centre in October – it’s running until January. I’ve featured on BBC south today – my VT is on the video section of my website. I’ve received letters from Clarence House, Kensington Palace and Sir David Attenborough. I’ve given ten radio interviews – my last one was on BBC Radio 5 live. I was invited by Dr Andy Mayers to give a talk to Bournemouth University during last year’s World Mental Health day and WWF UK used my story on Twitter during World Mental Health Day. Since seeking Simon King’s advice at his wildlife roadshow at Lyndhurst in Hampshire back in 2017 I’ve become a Getty photographer, I’ve been featured and published multiple times since the 5th May 2017 including in the Times, I newspapers and the Royal photographic societies Iris wildlife magazine.”

For better mental health please visit MIND.