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Nature & Mental Health

walk in forest

Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 – Nature Theme

Connecting with Nature is the theme of this year’s #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. Nature was where many of us sought sanctuary during the pandemic; research by the Mental Health Foundation showed that  going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies with 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%. Not only did we spend more time enjoying nature, we also noticed it more. Were the birds really singing more loudly or were we just hearing it with renewed interest?

robin in tree

‘There is something to be wondered at in all of Nature’

Aristotle

#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek 2021 has two clear aims:

1. To inspire more people to connect with nature in new ways, noticing the impact that this connection can have for their mental health.

2. To convince decision makers at all levels that access to and quality of nature is a mental health and social justice issue as well as an environmental one.

With gut health and mental health being so intrinsically linked, getting back to nature is something we absolutely advocate too. There is also scientific evidence to support this – we love the learning from this Japanese study.

bluebell woods
forest bathing

Japanese Forest Bathing Research

Forests in particular can be a particularly suitable location to destress and so are excellent places to escape for the hassles of life. In Japan they have a well-being practise called shinrin-yoku, which translates to ‘forest bathing’. A few years ago, a team of Japanese researchers travelled to an island, Yakushima, renowned for its biodiversity to study shinrin-yoku. Their objective was to better understand how and why some natural environments make us feel happier and healthier. 

The studies were fascinating. Results suggested that when we breathe in forest air we inhale beneficial bacteria; plant-derived essential oils and negatively-charged ions. The interaction of the beneficial bacteria with our own bacteria in our gut results in a surging feeling of health and happiness. The plant-derived essential oils called phytoncides (literal meaning: plant-derived exterminators) can fight off harmful microorganisms whilst the negatively-charged ions cause biochemical reactions that help increase levels of serotonin in our bodies; which in turn can relieve stress and alleviate depression.

Although more research is needed, the recent World Health Organization report, ‘Connecting Global Priorities – Biodiversity and Human Health,’ concluded: “The relationships our individual bodies have with our microbiomes are a microcosm for the vital relationships our species shares with countless other organisms with which we share the planet”.

So next time you need to take some time out consider a forest walk. The Forestry Commission can help you locate your closest wood for a wellbeing stroll.

 #ConnectWithNature Challenges

During Mental Health Awareness Week (and maybe for the rest of the year), The Mental Health Foundation are asking you to do three things: 

  • Experience nature: take time to recognise and grow your connection with nature. Take a moment to notice and celebrate nature in your daily life. You might be surprised by what you notice!
  • Share nature: Take a photo, video or sound recording and share the connections you’ve made during the week, to inspire others. Join the discussion on how you’re connecting with nature by using the hashtags #ConnectWithNature #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
  • Talk about nature: use our tips, school packs, research and policy guides to discuss in your family, school, workplace and community how you can help encourage people to find new ways to connect with nature in your local environment.

We’re definitely doing this – we hope you will too!

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