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Prescribe 'the great outdoors' for mental health, says charity

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

23rd October 2013 - Getting involved in gardening, food growing and community environmental projects is good for mental and physical health, say campaigners.

The mental health charity Mind has released a report, which includes findings from the University of Essex, showing the benefits of 'ecotherapy' to boost mental wellbeing. It recommends that GPs should be allowed to prescribe community projects in the countryside and parks on the NHS.

Going green

Ecotherapy is the name given to a wide range of programmes that aim to promote good mental and physical wellbeing through outdoor activity in a green environment. Over the last 5 years Mind has funded 130 projects in England through Ecominds which provide a range of outdoor activities for people with mental health problems.

The report, 'Feel better outside, feel better inside', analyses the effectiveness of the programme. However, a survey in England and Wales found that GPs remain unconvinced about whether they should recommend it for patients. Although half agreed that ecotherapy helped treat anxiety and depression, 56% say they need to see more evidence before referring patients for treatment.

The key findings of the report are that:

  • The Ecominds scheme helped 254 people find full-time employment with potential annual savings and contributions to the State of £1.46 million
  • Introducing just 5 people with mental health problems to ecotherapy saved taxpayers more than £35,000 each year in costs for medication, Jobseeker’s Allowance, and healthcare
  • 69% of people experienced significant increases in wellbeing by the time they left the Ecominds project
  • 57% felt that there were more people in their lives who cared about them and they met more often with friends and relatives
  • 81% got more involved in community activities and felt connected to where they live

Stress and depression

Wayne Franks joined an ecotherapy project in 2010 following a 3 month hospital admission. Wayne is an ex-serviceman and has had post-traumatic stress and depression since coming out of the army in 1999.

He explained to Mind: "I got no support from anyone when I was discharged. All I got told was ‘here are your papers, see you later'. I had a breakdown and found myself on a mental health ward. I lost my house because I couldn’t pay the rent, and I lost my job due to injury. I had nothing."

Wayne found out about an Ecomind project in Idle Valley and, after attending the project for just 18 months, says he has managed to reduce his antidepressant medication and been discharged by his community psychiatric nurse.

He says: "I didn’t even know there was a nature reserve near where I lived and I didn’t think that nature could help me in my situation. I tried it though, and now, looking back, if I hadn’t joined the project, I definitely wouldn’t be here."

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