New handbook to help prescribe nature for mental health and wellbeing

Posted on 8th June 2021

Understanding how the power of nature can help people improve their mental health and overcome conditions such as depression, anxiety and stress has been boosted thanks to a new handbook.

The resource, from researchers at the University of Exeter, provides guidance and best practice for organisations providing Nature on Prescription, helping them to develop beneficial, safe and sustainable services. The handbook will be launched at an online event on Thursday.

Nature on Prescription is one form of social prescribing through which people can self-refer or be referred by a health or social care professional to engage proactively with nature. A growing body of evidence shows that spending time in nature improves mental health and wellbeing. Increasingly, charities and other organisations are providing activities to meet this need, which may encompass volunteering, walking, arts or crafts or other ways to engage people in spending time outdoors.

Professor Ruth Garside at the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter, said: “Our own research has shown that spending time in green and blue spaces can significantly benefit mental health, and reduce anxiety and depression, and Covid-19 lockdowns have shone a spotlight on how many people wanted to get out into nature. It’s great to see organisations providing activities to facilitate this green connection, and our new handbook is designed to ensure people are supported to achieve the best possible outcomes for participants’ mental health.”

The project is supported by the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Public Health Intervention Development (PHIND) fund. and is a collaboration between the University of Exeter and NIHR ARC South West Peninsula. It draws on both research evidence and the experience of organisations who provide nature-based prescriptions. Among them is the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), which provides a range of activities at its sites, including its Somerset locations of Steart Marshes at Sedgemoor and The Meads, at Bridgwater.

Now, with funding from the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in Project Partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency, the WWT is using the handbook to develop on-site activities, alongside the co-production of an online mental health course with the Mental Health Foundation, focussing on nature.

Will Freeman, Health and Wellbeing Officer with WWT, said: “Nature has a really powerful impact on people’s sense of wellbeing – we hear lots of stories of how people really benefit from spending time in and interacting with natural environments. However, the pandemic has highlighted the inequity in people’s access to nature, with some people in deprived areas having few opportunities to benefit, even in rural settings. We’re exploring lots of ways that people can be involved with the landscapes near to them to support health and wellbeing and, due to the complexities involved in these initiatives, this handbook means we can be confident that we’re doing so to best effect.”

Find out more about the project here, and download the handbook here.

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