The green agenda for mental health
Mind week report, May 2007
With this report Mind calls for a new green agenda for mental health, following growing evidence in support of an accessible, cost-effective and natural addition to existing treatment options – ecotherapy. Ecotherapy is a natural, free and accessible treatment that boosts our mental wellbeing. Whether it’s a horticultural development programme supervised by a therapist or a simple walk in the park, being outdoors and being active is proven to benefit our mental health. As the cost and prescribing of drugs continues to rise, and 93 per cent of GPs say they have prescribed antidepressants against their better judgement owing to a lack of alternatives, ecotherapy needs to be seen as a clinically valid option that can play a vital part in patients’ recovery. Three of the Government’s six key priorities set out in the recent Public Health White Paper were to increase exercise, improve mental health and reduce obesity – we believe that implementing this green agenda would go some way to achieving all three. To view the report in full or to see the data from the University of Essex, go to: www.mind.org.uk/mindweek
Mind has commissioned two studies from the University of Essex, the results of which are published in the report. These studies confirm that participating in green exercise activities provides substantial benefits for health and wellbeing.
Green exercise at local Mind groups
For the first study, 108 people involved in green exercise activities with local Mind groups were surveyed. The activities included gardening projects (52 per cent), walking groups (37 per cent), conservation work (7 per cent), running (3 per cent) and cycling groups (1 per cent). • 90 per cent of people who took part in Mind green exercise activities said that the combination of nature and exercise is most important in determining how they feel. • 94 per cent of people commented that green exercise activities had benefited their mental health. Some of their comments included: “I feel better about myself and have a sense of achievement.” “I am more relaxed, have better focus of mind, greater coordination and greater self-esteem.” “It improves my depression, helps me be more motivated and gives me satisfaction in doing things. Since starting the project I have been able to improve on my quality of life. Coming here has helped me overcome most of my problems.” • 90 per cent of those surveyed commented that taking part in green exercise activities had benefited their physical health. Comments included: “My fitness has improved, I feel refreshed and alive.” “I feel as though I can do things without being tired. I am more active, I want to join in things and my body is looser and more agile.”
Outdoor versus indoor exercise
The second study looks at the role the environment plays on the effectiveness of exercise for mental wellbeing. Twenty members of local Mind associations took part in two walks in contrasting environments to test the impact on self-esteem, mood and enjoyment. The green, outdoor walk was around Belhus Woods Country Park in Essex, which has a varied landscape of woodlands, grasslands and lakes. The indoor walk was around a shopping centre in Essex.
Percentage of people who experienced improvements, no change or worsening in feelings of self-esteem, depression and tension following the outdoor and indoor walks. improvement 90% outdoor walk no change 5% got worse 5%
Ecotherapy – the green agenda for mental health Why ecotherapy? For the one in four people in England and Wales who will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives there are few treatment options immediately...
References: Department of Health, Physical Activity; Health Improvement and Prevention: Chief Medical Officer (2004), At least five a week: Evidence on the impact of physical activity and its relationship to health, 1–128 Eurodiet (2001), ‘The Eurodiet Reports and Proceedings’, Public Health Nutrition, Special Issue 4: 265-436 Hairon N. (2006), ‘PCTs poles apart over depression services’, Pulse 9 March Halliwell E. (2005), Up and Running? Exercise therapy and the treatment of mild or moderate depression in primary care, Mental Health Foundation, London Richardson C.R., Faulkner G., McDevitt J. et al. (2005), ‘Integrating Physical Activity Into Mental Health Services for Persons With Serious Mental Illness’, Psychiatric Services 56 (3): 324–31 World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mental_ health/management/depression
1. Ecotherapy should be recognised as a clinically valid treatment for mental distress. 6. Inequality of access to green space should be addressed as a human rights, social justice and discrimination issue.
2. Allocation of health and social care 7. All health, social care and criminal justice budgets should be informed by cost-benefit institutions should be required to ensure analysis of ecotherapies. access to green space. 3. GPs should consider referral for green exercise as a treatment option for every patient experiencing mental distress. 4. Access to green space should be considered as a key issue in all care planning and care assessment. 5. Referral to green care projects – such as green care farms – should be incorporated into health and social care referral systems. 8. Designing for mental wellbeing should be recognised as good practice for architecture and town and country planning. 9. The benefits of green exercise should be promoted by public health campaigns, targeting young people in particular. 10.Ecotherapy projects should be evaluated to collect data and continue to build an appropriate evidence base.
Mind will campaign on green exercise and mental health. The campaign will start with Mind week (12 to 19 May), the theme of which is ‘Fly a kite for mental health’, and run until mid September 2007. The campaign has the following aims: • To raise awareness of the proven benefits for mental health of green exercise amongst service users, GPs, PCTs/Local Health Boards, Local Councils, mental health professionals and town planners. • To encourage campaign audiences to take up the recommendations made in this report. • To engage our networks, including local Mind associations and Mind in Action members in campaigning at a local level.
For details of your nearest local Mind association and of local services, contact Mind’s helpline, MindinfoLine on 0845 7660 163, Monday to Friday 9.15am to 5.15pm. Speech impaired or deaf enquirers can contact us on the same number (if you are using BT Text direct, add the prefix 18001). For interpretation, MindinfoLine has access to 100 languages via Language Line. Mind 15–19 Broadway London E15 4BQ T: 020 8519 2122 F: 020 8522 1725 w: www.mind.org.uk
© Mind 2007 Registered charity number 219830 Registered in England number 424348
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