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Film crew with Angela Hillery

Connecting with nature is good for your mental health

Mental Health Week

Nature is the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May).

During the long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature. Research shows that going for walks outside and being in green spaces was one of the top coping strategies and vital for our mental health.

A simple way to connect with nature is through gardening - a relaxing activity that enables people to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells that nature brings.  NHFT holds regular gardening therapy sessions at sites across the Trust including at Berrywood Hospital, The Forest Centre and The Welland Centre at St Mary’s Hospital.

The gardening therapy sessions are supported by Occupational Therapy (OT) staff and are enormously popular with service users, who have been busy sowing seeds since January. Due to their hard work and diligence there are now greenhouses stocked with tomato plants, chillies, lettuces, and flowers, ready to fill the therapy garden beds once the weather begins to warm up.

Sarah Wilson, Service Manager for Inpatient Mental Health Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy said:

“Spending time in nature is good for us for lots of reasons. Even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health and preventing distress.

“Fresh air and exercise have long been recommended as a way to feel better, physically and mentally - and gardening is a great way to do that. It’s one of our most popular therapeutic activities at this time of year and our service users gain enormous benefits from attending sessions.

“It’s well known that gardening can alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety, increase focus and positive engagement, build motivation and self-esteem, and create connections through working together on a common goal. And we certainly see all of this in our Occupational Therapy gardening sessions. We also see the benefits of gardening in our OT cooking sessions when people use the produce they’ve grown themselves to cook healthy, nutritious meals.”

The Mental Health Foundation - the organisation leading this year’s awareness raising campaign - is actively encouraging everyone to get inspired by nature. They believe there are lots of ways we can improve our mental health and wellbeing by engaging with nature. For instance, stopping to listen to birdsong, smelling the freshly cut grass, taking care of a house plant, noticing any trees, flowers or animals nearby. Taking a moment to appreciate these connections.

We don’t always have to be in nature to further our relationship with the natural world: writing a poem about our favourite nature spot or reflecting on preferred walks help us consciously notice, consider and pause to appreciate the good things in nature.

Changing Minds IAPT offers free NHS talking therapies for adults across Northamptonshire, helping to manage feelings of stress, anxiety and low mood. You can complete the online form at any time and a member of the team will contact you to discuss the support available.

There are a number of mental health services to provide support for people across Northamptonshire. Click here to find out about mental wellbeing support services across the county.

Images of plants at Cove Ward

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