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Connecting with nature – another tool for the public health toolkit?

10th May 2021

Today marks the launch of Mental Health Awareness Week, the UK’s national week to raise awareness of mental health. The week, which is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, is in its 21st year and runs from 10-16 May. This year, the theme for the week is ‘Nature’. Across the country, people will be celebrating the mental health benefits of being around nature in their local community in a range of digital and creative ways – #ConnectWithNature

In support of #MentalHealthAwareness Week, we are delighted to share a Voices Blog from Dr Cheryll Adams CBE on her celebration of nature.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE

Did anyone else notice the crescendo of bird song in March 2020 as we went into lock down and cars disappeared from the roads? I thought that it was amazing and, alongside the many more conspicuous birds and other wildlife and the bright blue skies, I realised just how much we don’t always see and hear due to our busy lives and the noise that we make.

I am fortunate that, although I live in a town, it’s on the banks of Chichester Harbour, an area of outstanding natural beauty. The enforced slowing down, and loss of close relationships with friends and family, meant that we all needed to try to find new ways to sustain our mental health. For many, myself included, it was walking more but I also made sure that I always had a camera with me, usually my iPhone, to capture things in the natural world that I saw and enjoyed.

Chichester Harbour at sunset

I have over some years developed an interest in the many wading birds who visit Chichester Harbour during the winter months before flying north to mate. I have challenged myself to try to take good pictures of them so that I can then identify them and learn a little about them. Now, however, I was waking up to the wider beauty of the unfolding natural world in Spring, the trees moving into bud, the early butterflies, resident birds coming together to mate, some incredible skies not covered in steam trails from planes. I quickly realised that there is so much that I have often barely noticed in the past that I am now enjoying. My pleasure in my new pastime increased and increased, and with it a healthy thirst to be outside more to make my next discovery.

Woodland Tulips

There isn’t a lot of point in taking lots of photos if you don’t share them with others and that led to me setting up a Twitter hash tag (#NatureTherapy) and starting to post some of my better pictures. Encouraged by the feedback received, I have continued to do this as often as possible. When I announced that I was stepping right back from the iHV many people, whilst wishing me well for my new life, also begged me to continue posting my pictures. I was very pleased to learn just how many people look out for them and that they give pleasure despite being amateur shots.

Little Egret

Peacock butterflyEven big cities can offer interest from the natural world, but you have to look harder to find it without access to a park – my eye has been caught by green parrots making a heck of a din in a tree in Whitehall one winter, and a fox slinking past Barts hospital.

I do hope that in some small way, whilst helping my own mental health over the past year, I have also helped that of others. Now that I am retired, I am wandering further afield and really rejoicing in the pleasure that the natural world brings me with so much more time to enjoy it.  I am in no doubt that engaging with the natural world can help to sustain your emotional wellbeing.

At the iHV, lunchtime walks, or even ‘walk and talk meetings’, are encouraged and photos shared – perhaps these are things that we should all do more of.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE