Students for Trees Blog on the impact of nature on Mental Health
Hatty Ruddick, of Manchester University and Students for Trees Council, is our guest blog writer this Mental Health Week.
Mental Health Awareness Week for me is always a strange time. It is a time that many charities and organisations put out social media posts about looking after your mental health without actually doing anything to look at, or even acknowledge the causes of rising mental health problems.
However, this year we are in a unique situation where we are in a global pandemic and in the UK we are under lockdown during mental health awareness week. Everyone is feeling the effects of social distancing, being isolated and increasing anxiety over what the next few months have in store for us.
While there are societal changes that need to be made and there are clear structural barriers to the working class, people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people and young people accessing mental health services to truly change the outlook of mental health in the UK, there are self-care activities that we can try and do during the lockdown period that can help us feel better during this time that can lead to us feeling less trapped and less isolated.
One of these things is getting outside! Spending time outside, especially in green spaces is found to reduce feelings of stress and anger and improve your mood according to mental health charities and research. There is one mental health treatment that is prescribed by doctors called ecotherapy. This is a formal treatment which prescribed activities that you can do outside and has been shown to help with mild and moderate depression. Ecotherapy combines physical activity and social contact with being outside, all three of which is proven in research to boost your mood, particularly for those who have seasonal affective disorder. According to research by doctors being in natural sunlight and being surrounded by nature relieves stress and allows people to relax in a way that you can't inside.
During the period of lockdown, the government has allowed people to have unlimited periods being outdoors providing that social distancing guidelines are adhered to. This means that you are able to sit in the sun, have a look, go and look at trees or even read a book in your local park. This is great for those who are feeling isolated or stressed during this time.
However, what must be acknowledged is that this only meets the needs of the privileged few in the population. Many people, particularly working-class people in inner city areas do not have access to local green spaces, or have access to cars to get to green spaces. With the nature of this pandemic, it is not advisable right now to be getting on public transport to access your nearest green space. And for those with existing medical conditions, who have to shield from the general public as a means of protecting their health, getting outdoors is also impossible right now. Therefore, getting out into nature is no possible for these groups of people. This shows a clear failing in the system of making green spaces accessible to everyone across the country and that the government is not addressing this. There needs to be consideration of the working-class and disabled people within our population and a clear effort to make sure that once we are out of lockdown that green spaces start to work to be accessible to the whole population even in times of national crisis such as now.
This article is in no way suggesting that getting out into nature will solve all mental health problems, it won't. Within our society we need to work on the lack of access to sustainable, well-paid, safe employment, culturally competent health care, a lack of access to education for so many people within society; including adults, unsafe housing and so many more factors until we can truly solve the growing mental health crisis. There are also mental health conditions that are impacted by our biological make-up and this needs to be well treated by health care professionals. But there is no doubt that being able to access green spaces can not only support the treatment from health care professionals, but can reduce stress and improve the mood of those of us that just get down sometimes as well as those with diagnosed mental health conditions.
National Union of Students' National Scrutiny Council-elect
University of Manchester MA Humanitarianism and Conflict Response Student
University of Manchester Students' Union Part-time Womens' Officer
HCRI Society Masters Representative
Campaigns Coordinator for Student for Trees Council
NUS Disabled Students Representative for the Womens' Campaign