Bridget Finton is a Health and Participation Officer with Scottish Natural Heritage. Here she takes a look how nature can provide a dose of health and happiness on World Mental Health Day.
Elements of taboo, stigma or embarrassment are often still associated with mental illness, and that’s one of the reasons behind World Mental Health Day. First celebrated in 1992 and now recognised by the World Health Organisation, it’s a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma.
In Scotland, one in four people will experience a diagnosable mental health problem each year. Anxiety and depression are the most common, but others include schizophrenia, personality disorders, eating disorders and dementia. In Europe, it is estimated that 83 million people experience a mental health condition every year, and, taken together, mental ill health is the leading cause of chronic illness, accounting for 40% of the European disability burden. Globally, mental disorders are the primary contributor to the global burden of disease.
Poor health isn’t evenly distributed across society, and Scottish health statistics reflect the gap between rich and poor in terms of mental health as illustrated by the 2015 Scottish Health Survey:
people living in the most deprived areas were more likely to have two or more symptoms of depression (15%) compared to those living in then least deprived areas (4%).
Suicide is viewed as an indicator of a population’s mental health and in Scotland the rate of suicide remains higher than that seen in much of Western Europe, with the prevalence being strongly associated with levels of deprivation, and the rate for men being more than two-and-a-half times that for women.
The evidence base for the range of health benefits associated with ‘green exercise’ – active and passive engagement with nature to foster better health – is growing and is backed up by feedback from those who engage in the outdoors. Scotland’s People and Nature Survey 2013/14 reported:
9 in 10 adults in Scotland who visit the outdoors for recreation at least occasionally reported improvements to their physical and mental health as a result:
The Scottish Government published its new Mental Health Strategy in February 2017. In it, the links between physical activity and mental health and well-being are highlighted. Green exercise is especially suited to people experiencing mental health problems and the Our Natural Health Service initiative is referenced in the strategy as providing ways in which to engage in healthy activity. For people with mental health problems, the outdoors setting and the nature of many activities is less intimidating than indoors gyms or formal sports where clothing and body image can be significant barriers to participation.
Development of the Our Natural Health Service initiative is being led by Scottish Natural Heritage, along with partners from health and other sectors. With an ambitious goal of mainstreaming green exercise into healthcare policy and practice, the associated action programme will demonstrate how to make the most of our outdoors as a resource for health improvement. Existing examples of work connecting people with mental health issues to the health benefits of engaging with the outdoors include horticultural therapy programmes such as those managed by SAMH, Branching Out and Green Gym. Other projects include walking or cycling groups which focus on helping people with mental health problems, and programmes to engage patients and staff at psychiatric hospitals such as Royal Edinburgh and New Craigs Inverness in activities within the hospital grounds and gardens.
2017’s World Mental Health Day is focussing on mental health in the workplace. Why not share a friendly ‘Hello, how are you?’ with your colleagues, and take a proper break at lunchtime to explore your local greenspace?
Scottish Government – Mental Health Strategy 2017 – 27