May is marked as Mental Health Month in the US. As I don’t live there I don’t feel qualified to talk about how it is supported, but it is good that mental health has this focus, which has been run by Mental Health America since 1949. They say about this year’s month:
“In 2021, we will continue with our theme of Tools 2 Thrive, providing practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase their resiliency regardless of their personal situation.”
If you’d like to know more about what they do their website is very helpful, and can be found here.
This week – 10th to 16th May – is Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK, and that is my main focus for this post. The week is managed by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), who coincidentally (or perhaps not?) have also been in existence since 1949. Their website is also very good, and can be found here.
The MHF puts prevention at the heart of its work, and provides many resources to assist with this, as you will see from their website. To support Mental Health Week the MHF chooses a theme each year, and this year they are focusing on nature and its benefits for our mental health. I don’t get out anything like as much as I want to, but whenever I do I always feel the uplift from fresh air and the natural world that is all around us. You don’t have to be miles from anywhere in the countryside to enjoy this, either – a few minutes on the balcony outside my flat, breathing in the air, listening to the birds in the tree just outside, can work wonders. Their Chief Executive, Mark Rowland, explains this better than I can:
“During long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature. Our research on the mental health impacts of the pandemic showed going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 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%. Wider studies also found that during lockdowns, people not only spent more time in nature but were noticing it more.
It was as if we were re-discovering at our most fragile point our fundamental human need to connect with nature.”
He goes on to say:
“During Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we will pull together the evidence that demonstrates the powerful benefits of nature for our mental health. We will look at nature’s unique ability to not only bring consolation in times of stress, but also increase our creativity, empathy and a sense of wonder. It turns out that it is not just being in nature but how we open ourselves up and interact with nature that counts. We will show that even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress.
Nature is our great untapped resource for a mentally healthy future.”
This is all being done under their hashtag #connectwithnature – hopefully you’ll see a lot of it this week!
An article in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper gave an instance of how this is being translated into action. In a joint venture with the London Wetlands Centre the MHF is introducing a series of six week courses to help people experience the benefits for their mental health of being out in the natural world that surrounds us. Those taking part will be involved in a range of activities, which could include birdwatching, pond dipping, nature walks and habitat protection work. Research has shown that previous schemes like this have been recognised by participants as being high on their list of things which made them feel better: using nature as a therapy is part of a wider movement of social prescribing, where exercise, social activities, home improvements and other interventions are used as effective and often inexpensive treatments. I think this is a fantastic initiative and hope that it is very successful: if so, maybe funding can be found to continue and expand it. The Guardian article is here if you’d like to read the full piece from which I have cribbed.
The MHF has produced a short video explaining the thinking behind the choice of nature as their theme. It’s fun and informative, so I thought I’d share it with you:
The video is self-explanatory, and I hope it encourages you to do three things:
- Enjoy nature in a way which suits you;
- Visit the MHF website to find out more; and
- Think about those dearest to you, and consider if sharing some of nature’s gifts with them will help improve things for them.
As is my wont, I thought I’d close this piece with a song. The world is out there for us, and whilst there is much wrong with it there are also so many good things for us to enjoy – nature, in particular. This is one of the most uplifting songs I know, especially in this performance, where they really are having fun. As the man says, the world is what you make it:
“Clean up them windows let the sun shine through…Pick up them pieces hit the road again.”
Go on, you’ll enjoy it and feel better for it.