Mental health awareness week: mentally healthy in nature

In a year of shielding and staying indoors, the anticipation and apprehension that comes with restrictions lifting can impact our mental health. Near or far, venturing into the great outdoors can release endorphins to boost your mood.

Our relationship with the great outdoors has changed in the last 12-months. From staying inside for the first national lockdown, and respective lockdowns experienced since, to shielding for over a year, there have been new barriers introduced to everyone’s daily activities.

The pandemic has been an incredibly stressful and emotional time for everyone, with repercussions underway – particularly when caring for our mental health. In 2020, mental health charity Mind revealed that 60 per cent of adults and 68 per cent of young people said their mental health was worse in lockdown.

Bubble

“At one point in my life I was more or less trapped at home,” reveals Paula Brunt, who is a wheelchair user. Living in the countryside and initially unable to drive, Paula felt incredibly isolated and trapped, which had a negative impact on her mental health. This, unfortunately, is a feeling that many, if not all, disabled people can relate to prior to the pandemic and coming out of lockdown.

Paula continues: “Not going outside, you do get wrapped up in your own little world. You are in your own little bubble. The more people can go outside and enjoy the benefits of being outside, the better.

“It is one of those things that even if you’re in a city you can find somewhere that has a bit of green space. It can make such a difference; it is important that as many people get to know that your mental health can be really improved by going out for a walk.”

Further research from the Mental Health Foundation found that almost half of people (47 per cent) they surveyed had felt stress because of the pandemic, but being able to visit green spaces had helped them to cope.

And this Mental Health Awareness Week – taking place from 10 to 16 May –will be heading into the great outdoors to promote the benefits of nature for our mental health, alongside continued discussions around mental health conditions to eradicate stigma and promote healthy, positive, honest conversations around mental health.

Nature

“There is growing evidence that confirms that nature can be part of preventing mental health problems,” explains Jolie Goodman, programmes manager for empowerment and later life at the Mental Health Foundation.

“Researchers have found a fascinating link between access to green space, such as fields, forests, parks and gardens, and a reduced risk of mental health problems, improved mood, and increased life satisfaction.

“Other benefits include reduced stress, increased physical activity, and better physical health.”

Annually, one in four people experience a mental health condition, with anxiety and depression noted as the most common conditions. It is feared that the repercussions of the pandemic will lead to a mental health crisis for people from all backgrounds, particularly people who find getting outside challenging.

Paula adds: “Mental health does still have that stigma. A lot of people don’t like to talk about the fact they have a mental health problem because they think they will be judged.”

As a disabled person, leaving your home may be harder and added stresses and fears of contracting COVID-19, which may be incredibly detrimental for people with specific health conditions, may exacerbate feelings. But, there are disability specific groups and locations on hand to help disabled people to experience nature for improved mental health and wellbeing.

Disabled ramblers

Paula has since managed to embrace the nature and green space beside her. After discovering the Disabled Ramblers and purchasing a mobility scooter, Paula’s world was opened up with possibility and potential. Most importantly, Paula’s mental health has benefitted.

“With the Disabled Ramblers, this has helped as well in terms of giving me a new interest and friends,” enthuses Paula. “Like many people in the last year, I have had days where my mental health hasn’t been great and I have had periods where I have felt so agoraphobic that I’ve not wanted to go out and I’ve been scared to go out.

“Getting outside makes you realise, too, that you are not the only one that is experiencing this.”

The Disabled Ramblers organises a range of group events across the UK, running from April to October come rain or shine. Due to current government restrictions, the Disabled Ramblers currently have four rambles across the UK planned for the coming months, and Paula, alongside her fellow Ramblers, know the positive mental benefits that come with being outside.

Paula emphasises: “The Rambles helps people who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to go out into the country side and enjoy some of the sights. On the last ramble in we went to the location where they filmed Poldark. You can only feel good when you are ou like that. The sun is shining, you have these magnificent views, and you get to meet a lot of new people.”

Go green

As the world slowly opens up, you might be feeling apprehensive, experiencing increased anxiety and nerves – these are all valid feelings.

As the world slowly opens up, you might be feeling apprehensive, experiencing increased anxiety and nerves – these are all valid feelings.

Paula advises: “If anyone is feeling nervous about going out, I would suggest that you make a point of planning what you want to do and knowing where you want to go. One of the main things: talk to people, friends and family, about the fact that you are nervous and that you haven’t been outside for a long time.

“For the first time, just do something small have a walk around your local park, the more you do that then the better you feel.”

It is important to know that your feelings and concerns are validated and you are not alone. There is help available, be that from your loved ones, your local GP and charitable organisations. Taking the next steps out of lockdown at your own pace is imperative for your mental health.

Support for your mental health is available from the Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Campaign Against Living Miserably, and the NHS. In an emergency, always call 999.

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