Mental Health Awareness Week 2021: Appreciating Nature
What is Mental Health Awareness Week?
Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week has been running for 21 years and offers an annual opportunity to start much needed conversations about mental health. This year, in 2021, it takes place on 10th – 16th May with the theme of Nature and is focused on how everyone can benefit from regularly taking some time in the natural world. Now more than ever, many people have rediscovered the advantages of being outside as a fun, easy and free way of connecting with nature.
What do we mean by ‘mental health’ and ‘nature’?
Everybody has mental health and it is increasingly important to check in with your own day-to-day wellbeing.
World Health Organisation defines mental health as:
“a state of well-being in which [an] individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.”
In other words, when your mental health is healthy, you feel capable in the face of adversity and can put your energy into things that matter the most to you.
By nature, we don’t mean you have to trek to the countryside! Nature is all around us; if we have access to areas of wilderness and woodland, sea, lakes and rivers, then that’s fantastic. But we can also access nature in a park or garden or any patches of wildlife and plants close to home. You can even experience nature by bringing some of the outside indoors, nurturing house plants or growing herbs indoors.
Why is it important?
Most of us live fast-paced lives and are constantly facing lots of commitments. When we feel pressure from school, home or other priorities in our daily lives, especially during these periods of lockdown, it’s essential to carve out time to step away and connect with nature.
Taking action for young people’s mental health is crucial. For ‘Generation Covid’, the usual pressures of school and home life have been exacerbated by school closures and being isolated from their friends. The Children’s Society’s 2020 report highlighted that out of a classroom of 30 young people, 5 are likely to have a mental health problem. The Diana Award conducted a survey in early 2020 during lockdown and found that 85% of young people surveyed and 98% of staff working with young people in schools feel mental health and wellbeing is a high priority. So how can nature help?
A recent study demonstrated that spending 2 hours outside in nature over the course of a week is the optimum amount of time to get the most health and wellbeing benefit (White, 2019). The study shows that it doesn’t matter how you spend it; whether that’s altogether for one long outing or lots of smaller visits, if you can spare just over 15 minutes a day to appreciate nature then you can get the most out of the natural world.
Here at The Diana Award, we have come up with a few ideas of how you can get involved in nature and experience everything it has to offer:
1. Being Active
Possibly the most obvious benefit to being outdoors is exercise but this doesn’t mean that you have to take up running to get a dose of ‘green exercise’, which is activity in nature. There are so many ways of being physically active outside, including outdoor sports like rounders or tennis, a game of swing ball or walking your or a friend’s dog around a local park or around the block. A study by Barton and Pretty (2010) highlighted that even 5 minutes of activity outside is enough to significantly boost our mood and self-esteem and, in fact, the greatest improvement out of all the age groups was the youngest. Additionally, it showed that it didn’t matter what type of green space the subjects were in; all types improved self-esteem and mood, even in urban environments. Try putting on your trainers for a 5 minute walk each day and see how you feel!
The key to mindfulness is using all 5 senses to connect to what’s around us. When you’re outside, taking a moment to notice the different colours and shapes of the leaves, the scents of the flowers, sounds of the birds, the wind through the trees or the simple quiet can help ground us in the present moment and give your thinking mind a well-deserved rest. Being mindful of how nature is constantly changing can also be beneficial. You could try growing something, either outside or on your windowsill, and take time to watch as it grows or pick some flowers for your indoor space to bring some of the outside world indoors. Watching things change with the seasons is important in putting things into perspective. Nature reminds us that everything transforms with time, and just like the flowers that bloom, your worries and difficult situations are never permanent.
Nature also provides uninterrupted time free of screens and other distractions to connect with those around you. The Diana Award reported that 73% of school staff stated that family relationships should be a top priority when supporting young people. Why not take advantage of the warmer weather and suggest some walks with friends and family? It’s a free and easy way of socialising and can go a long way in nurturing feelings of support and togetherness during this challenging time. Nature also offers the opportunity of connecting with the world around us and something bigger than ourselves. Taking some time to put out food for the birds or picking up some litter on your walk can be easy and effective steps in giving back to nature. Overall, caring for something helps inspire caring for ourselves.
The outside world also provides inspiration to get creative in our free time. There are almost unlimited sources of creativity for writing, sketching, painting, and photography. The natural world offers huge variety of unique natural diversity to support life. It’s no wonder that the natural world has been used as inspiration for art and architecture! Wanting to get started but unsure what your subject should be? Observe outside and using your 5 senses, find something that interests you, maybe it’s the textures or shapes, and do a quick 5-minute sketch. Any way of using our senses to experience the natural world is beneficial (Mental Health Foundation).
If you have an Anti-Bullying Ambassador team at your school, why not suggest some of these activities to highlight the positive relationship between nature and mental health? Encouraging everyone within schools to take time for their own mental wellbeing is crucial in fostering a supportive and kind community.
The Diana Award Crisis Messenger - Provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you are a young person in crisis, you can text DA to 85258. Trained volunteers will listen to how you’re feeling and help you think through the next step towards feeling better.
YoungMinds - The UK’s leading charity with information about mental health in young people.
Check out our Support Centre for more helpful organisations.