The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year is Nature. I’ve been working with the Mental Health Foundation on the associated research report, some activities for the week and events that take place during the week. There are a number of resources to get involved and the full research report we worked on is available here.
The first half of this blog includes ways people can take part in the week. The second half outlines recommendations from the Mental Health and Nature Policy Briefing on what needs to happen more widely – available here.
What you can do…
During Mental Health Awareness Week we’re asking everyone to #ConnectWithNature to support their mental health – bringing nature into your daily life can really make a difference. We know that:
- Being around nature is good for our mental health
- Connecting with nature can help prevent mental health problems
- Everyone should have access to nature to achieve good mental health for all
During the week we’d like people to recognise and grow their connection with nature. Whether you’re out for a walk, on your way to work, or spending the day indoors, take a moment to notice and celebrate nature in your daily life. To help there are some ‘top tips’ and a nature journal to download.
You might also find some inspiration in the resources we put together to support mental wellbeing during the coronavirus restrictions, here you’ll find:
- Noticing the ‘Good Things in Nature’
- How to Explore your relationship with nature
- An audio nature meditation
- Immersive Virtual Nature
What more needs to happen…
The Mental Health and Nature Policy Briefing from the Mental Health Foundation gives an overview of key issues and sets out detailed policy recommendations. In their associated survey they found a clear public appetite for change. Three quarters (75%) of people think the Government should be aiming to encourage people to do more to connect with nature. The briefing notes that when measured together, a meaningful connection with nature is often more important than visits to, and time spent in nature. Therefore, the report makes the case for “prioritising connection with nature as the main goal for our nature and mental health policies”. The recommendations for the ways that Government policy can facilitate greater nature connection fall into five areas.
1 – Facilitating connection with nature
Recent evidence into the contribution of nature visits and nature connection shows that it is connection that best explains key mental wellbeing outcomes. There is a need to move beyond access to nature to engaging with the natural world. Therefore, the briefing recommends that nature connection is the core principle that drives all policies relating to nature and mental health.
2 – Protecting the natural environment and restoring biodiversity
As my blog on recent research showed, the UK is not a nation of nature lovers and that’s strongly associated with low levels of biodiversity. The Mental Health and Nature Policy Briefing recommends the UK governments set ambitious interim and outcome targets to halt the decline of species and habitats in the UK by 2030. Then the delivery of biodiversity gain should prioritise deprived areas to bring the wellbeing benefits of nature to the communities that need it most.
3 – Improving access to nature
Clearly, access to nature is necessary to build a deeper connection, the report recommends access to nature should be guaranteed for the widest range of people. This includes improving safety and the quality of green spaces and parks.
4 – Using urban design to improve the visibility and availability of nature
Beyond formal green spaces and parks there is a need to facilitate building an every day connection with nature. These recommendations note how urban nature matters. It is recommended that the National Planning Policy Framework in England is updated to go beyond “conserving and enhancing” the existing natural environment to creating new, visible nature for the purpose of supporting people’s mental health and wellbeing.
5 – Building a life-long relationship with nature
Our research that shows a pronounced dip in young people’s connection with nature is noted and policies that build a long-term connection with nature for children are recommended. This includes outdoor activities at school, with nature being a part of the learning process. School grounds should provide access to nature and the Government should review and improve natural spaces of secondary schools.
The Mental Health and Nature Policy Briefing is excellent and builds on our previous guidance. I recommend reading the report in full, remembering to take a break and notice nature while you do.