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Ecotherapy involves getting outdoors and getting active in a green environment as a way of boosting mental wellbeing. Whether it's taking regular walks in the park, flying a kite or participating in a gardening therapy project, green exercise is proven to have huge benefits for mental health. The prescription of care farms as a treatment for mental distress has been highly successful on the continent but the UK is lagging far behind Europe - there are only 43 care farms in the UK, none of which are directed at mental health, compared to 600 in the Netherlands and 400 in Norway.

Background Edit

To coincide with Mind week, 12 to 19 May 2007, UK mental health charity Mind launched a new report setting out a green agenda for mental health, and calling for ecotherapy to be recognised as a clinically-valid frontline treatment for mental health problems.

Ecotherapy versus retail therapy Edit

Mind's new report Ecotherapy: the green agenda for mental health presents the findings of the first ever study looking at how green exercise specifically affects people with mental health problems. A walk in a country park was compared with a walk in an indoor shopping centre:

  • 71 per cent reported decreased levels of depression after the green walk
  • 22 per cent felt their depression increased after walking through an indoor shopping centre and only 45 per cent experienced a decrease in depression

  • 71 per cent said they felt less tense after the green walk
  • 50 per cent said their feelings of tension had increased after the shopping centre walk

  • 90 per cent had increased self-esteem after the country walk
  • 44 per cent said their self-esteem decreased after window shopping in the shopping centre.

Green activities boost mental health Edit

Mind's second research study showed the views of people who regularly partake in green activities run by Mind's network of local Mind associations:

  • 90 per cent said it was the combination of nature and exercise that had the greatest effect on them
  • 94 per cent said that green activities had benefited their mental health, lifting depression.

Farming therapy Edit

Britain is trailing far behind other European countries in introducing care farms as a treatment for mental distress. Patients suffering from mental distress in the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium and Slovenia are prescribed agriculture work where they acquire new skills and gain increased confidence while farmers get paid for providing a health service and benefit from additional labour power.

Holland has 600 care farms that are a fully integrated part of the health service but in the UK care farming is still a relatively new concept. The National Care Farming Initiative estimates that there are 43 care farms in the UK but none aimed at mental health, the majority self-funded and there is no national framework. The expansion of UK care farms could aid thousands of people with mental health problems. It could also help rural regeneration and break down the stigma and isolation surrounding mental health problems in rural communities.

Low cost Edit

Unlike drugs, ecotherapy is low-cost, has no negative side effects and is available on most people's doorsteps.

Green space at prisons and hospitals Edit

There is often little or no access to green space in many prisons, despite evidence that even a view of trees can improve prisoners' health and behaviour. A study of prisoners in Michigan found that those who had cells overlooking farmland and trees had 24 per cent fewer sick visits than those in cells facing the prison yard.

Similarly, a 10-year comparative study of post-operative patients in Pennsylvania showed that hospital stays for patients with tree views was significantly shorter, they required fewer painkillers, used less medication, and nursing staff reported fewer negative evaluation comments in the medical records.

Mind is calling for access to green space and exercise to be a core issue for the Healthcare Commission, Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Prisons Inspectorate.

Recommendations Edit

Mind's recommendations include:

  • Ecotherapy should be recognised as a clinically-valid treatment for mental distress.
  • GPs should consider prescribing green exercise as a treatment option for every patient experiencing mental distress.
  • People on care plans should be supported in accessing green space.
  • Referral to care farms should be incorporated into health and social care referral systems.
  • Allocation of health and social care budgets should be informed by cost-benefit analysis of ecotherapies.
  • All health, social care and criminal justice institutions should be required to offer access to green space.
  • Architects and town and country planners should design with mental wellbeing in mind.
  • The benefits of green exercise should be promoted by public health campaigns.

Related Wikipedia content Edit

External links

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  • Go Green to beat the blues - Mind launches new green agenda for mental health, Mind, May 13

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