Ecotherapy good for mental health and wellbeing

Getting involved with gardening and environmental projects improves mental health, boosts self-esteem, helps people with mental health problems return to work, improves physical health and reduces social isolation new research shows.

A report issued by the mental health charity Mind entitled Feel Better Outside, Feel Better Inside, which includes new findings from the University of Essex demonstrates the many benefits of ecotherapy for mental wellbeing.

Over the last five years Mind funded 130 Ecominds projects with support from the Big Lottery Fund. These projects have introduced more than 12,000 people with and at risk of developing mental health problems to ecotherapy initiatives such as gardening, food growing or environmental conservation work. Ecotherapy helps people to look after their mental health by getting active outdoors while being supported by trained professionals.

Key findings reveal that:

  • Mind’s Ecominds scheme helped 254 people find full-time employment with potential annual savings and contributions to the State of £1.46 million.
  • Introducing just five people with mental health problems to ecotherapy saved the state more than £35,000 each year in costs for medication, Jobseeker’s Allowance, and healthcare.
  • Seven in ten (69%) people experienced significant increases in wellbeing by the time they left the Ecominds project.
  • Three in five (57%) felt that there were more people in their lives who cared about them and they met more often with friends and relatives.
  • Four in five (81%) got more involved in community activities and felt connected to where they live.
  • Men are less likely than women to seek help for mental health problems and ecotherapy is a great way to engage them in wellbeing services - men formed three in five (56%) of Ecominds participants.

Mind found from a survey of GPs working across England and Wales that even though over half agreed that ecotherapy is a valid and suitable treatment for anxiety (52%) and depression (51%), nearly three in five (56%) said they need to see more evidence of the benefits of ecotherapy to refer confidently.

The charity is calling for people across the UK to use its campaigning tools to share this news with their local mental health and social care commissioners.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

"Our research shows people commissioning mental health services and social care that a holistic treatment like ecotherapy delivers not only health benefits, but wider social benefits and cost savings that medication could not. Ecotherapy improves mental wellbeing, it helps people to become more physically active, it gives people the skills to get back into work or training, and it helps people who are lonely or socially isolated to broaden their networks. These are all important factors that can prevent people developing a mental health problem to start with.

Last year a staggering fifty million antidepressant prescriptions were issued and currently one in five people with mental health problems have to wait up to a year to access talking treatments. When growing numbers of people are affected by mental health problems each year and they’re telling us that they want more options than drugs, now is the time for commissioners across health, social care and public health to take a fresh look at this evidence and realise the long-term benefits that holistic treatments like ecotherapy can deliver."

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