‘Connecting with nature’ is a vital message, but is it misused?

Head of Social Enterprise at Mayfield, Dan Angus, explores the messaging around connecting to nature...

I recently read a tweet by a mental health professional and person with lived experience expressing some frustration that the ‘go outdoors’ message felt a bit like a cliché, particularly when given by those in clinical settings. She was clearly not saying that the message is wrong – going outdoors and connecting with nature has enormous benefits to our mental wellbeing. She was noting that in a time of over-stretched services and long waiting lists for treatment, it’s not enough on its own.

This got me thinking – at Mayfield Nurseries, our fundamental belief is that connecting with nature and being outdoors are a huge help for all of us, especially those of us who struggle at times with mental health difficulties. And I stand by that message. The evidence is clear and conclusive….

The above list could go on for many more points and draw from many more studies (I have mostly used a 2018 Harvard Health Care article as my source). I haven’t even touched on the wonders of watching a plant grow as you nurture it through life!

Getting out and about in nature, finding natural things in urban environments and growing plants on your kitchen windowsill are just some of the (mostly free) ways we can achieve vastly improved mental wellbeing from the natural world.

So what is the problem? There are a couple of examples that spring to mind…..

For people living with highly distressing symptoms, whilst the above applies, it doesn’t feel like an answer in isolation. Access to services is also really important – medication, therapy, crisis services, psychiatric and nursing services all play a part in someone’s recovery and nature alone is not a ‘cure all’. With decreasing resources and ever higher thresholds in accessing services, many people feel side-lined and marginalised. Telling them to go for a walk just isn’t good enough.

Then there is the catch-22 of mental health recovery. You know what you should do but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. Sometimes, getting dressed is a colossal achievement - and should be celebrated when that is the case. Well-meaning people telling you to get outdoors and get some fresh air won’t help in this situation – guilt about failure is really common when people are recovering from mental illness. That guilt only adds to the inertia, leading to more feelings of guilt and so on.

Is there a solution? I believe there is.

Firstly, and above all else, be kind to yourself and one another. Kindness, like nature, is free and powerful. Practise it diligently. You’ll find below some tips for connecting with nature more easily. However, nature isn’t going anywhere and there is no rush and no pressure. When you feel able to do these things, fantastic. Meanwhile, keep on being kind to yourself! Please try to observe and celebrate achievements which work for you. Be proud that you are gradually working through this. Be proud that you’re reading this now. Be proud that you got up this morning when you just couldn’t face it. Be proud you answered the phone that one time.

If, and when, you are feeling able and moved to try something, maybe consider the below, but NO PRESSURE! Come to some of these in your own time, or not at all;

Finally, I want to give you assurance that if you reach out to Mayfield Nurseries Wellbeing programme for help, we will hear you and we will do all we can to help you as quickly as possible. As part of Solent Mind, we can also advise you on all the services in your area and help you get in contact. We are here for you.

I wish you all better mental wellbeing and please never give up hope – it will get better.

Do please comment if you have any great tips for connecting with nature when going out isn’t the easiest thing to do, and please know that whenever we extol the virtues of connecting with nature, and we will, we also know it isn’t the whole story for all of you.

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