The issue of mental health has been a hot topic for some time now, as you probably already know (unless, of course, you’ve been living under a rock, which actually doesn’t sound too bad at the moment). Depression and anxiety, particularly among young people, is on the rise and considering the austerity-obsessed toffs who are unfortunately governing the country right now, it doesn’t look like this epidemic is going to be dealt with as it should, despite all the efforts of the charitable organisations out there that help people suffering from mental illness. This is because rather than just treating mental illnesses, more needs to be done to address their underlying causes, as well as ways in which we can prevent them.
The government can take a lot of the blame for this mental health crisis; their huge cuts to the NHS (and by extension, mental health services) coupled with other factors, such as unemployment, rising poverty and lower living standards, have deteriorated the quality of life in Britain. In turn, all this resultant stress and anxiety has harmed the mental health of so many people, especially young adults. But the focus of this post is not to criticise the government (though I have a hell of a lot to say to them) or come up with some miraculous way of dealing with the mental health crisis. I simply want to share with you a belief that I’ve held for a very long time.
I believe we need nature to improve our mental health.
Nature can help us so much. And in this instance, I’m not talking about the healthy, nourishing fruit and veg that the Earth gives us, or the plants that give us pain relief (hello, opium). I’m coming from a purely aesthetic angle. Just observing the natural world, be it the beach, a forest or some other grand scenery, or even something as simple as a garden of blooming flowers, has the ability to soothe a mind that isn’t well, much like some music can. It can improve our mood, lessen feelings of stress and anger, and help us feel more relaxed overall, to name a few benefits. Since mental and physical health are closely linked, it is important to maintain the health of both, as neither can function well without the other. But cities are concrete jungles. Yes, there may be lots of parks, gardens and trees lining the streets, yet it really isn’t enough. We need nature and its scenery around us much more so that we can interact with it and enjoy it, as it’s in our nature to do so. Anthropologist Jane Goodall once said:
‘It’s been proven by quite a few studies that plants are good for our psychological development. If you green an area, the rate of crime goes down. Torture victims begin to recover when they spend time outside in a garden with flowers. So we need them, in some deep psychological sense, which I don’t suppose anybody really understands yet.’
The idea that nature can be therapeutic to a suffering mind isn’t new. It has been floating around among researchers and psychiatrists for a couple of decades now, and is known as ‘ecotherapy.’ In the 80’s, biologist Edward O. Wilson theorised that our connection with nature is rooted in our biology and genetics, and the scientific evidence we have seems to favour this. There have been studies conducted over several years which prove that those living in greener areas have a lower mortality rate, and that our taking part in nature-based activities can help to reduce levels of depression, anxiety and stress. Personally, one of my favourite hobbies is photography (especially nature photography) which you can probably tell if you’ve seen my Instagram page. I’m not a pro and I don’t have a professional camera. Just a passion for taking pictures of things/places that I find visually pleasing. It’s a creative process that I find gratifying.
It’s only after a certain point in my teens, when I became somewhat hyper-aware, that I began to appreciate the impact of nature on my state of mind. I think with most people this impact is subconscious. You don’t even realise that by simply looking at the assortment of pretty flowers at the park, or walking down the beach with the waves lapping at your feet, your spirits are lifted.
Like animals, we have been closely connected with nature throughout our existence because it is in our human nature to be a part of the natural world. Yet we are nature deprived. Our intelligence has enabled us to destroy nature in order to replace it with bricks and steel and concrete. We have vastly removed what is essential to our mental and physical well-being, and replaced it with exactly the opposite of what we need. The world is full of so many man-made elements (e.g. social media, money, urbanisation, etc.) which negatively affects our mental health. Therefore, we need to try and counter this by surrounding ourselves with natural elements that positively affects our mental health.
They don’t call it Mother Nature for nothing.