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Connecting to ‘watery’ nature to improve mental health

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/new-project-has-been-announced-today-improve-peoples-mental-health-through-connecting-watery

A new project has been announced recently to improve people’s mental health through connecting to ‘watery’ nature

“New YouGov research, released by the Mental Health Foundation, has found  65% of people find being near water improves their mental wellbeing and is their favourite part of nature

A new scheme in London announced today called Blue Prescribing will allow up to 300 people experiencing poor mental health and with limited access to water in natural settings the chance to take part in a six week, wetland nature-based health programme at WWT London Wetland Centre – beginning this summer and running for a year.  

The initiative has been set up in response to a growing body of evidence that being in nature can reduce psychological stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression and that access to blue and green space is associated with better health outcomes. This is backed up by YouGov research released by the Mental Health Foundation that shows that 65 per cent of people find being near water (coast, rivers, lakes and ponds) has a positive impact on their mental health.  This was more than any other way to connect with nature. 

The Blue Prescribing project will see participants take part in hands-on, nature-based activities in a ‘watery’ natural setting to help improve their mental and physical wellbeing, with the effects of the project being scientifically evaluated. 

The scheme, based at London Wetland Centre, will be co-designed between the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), and participants. Activities will build participant’s health, knowledge and confidence in wetland nature and facilitate peer support to enhance social inclusion and resilience. Overall, the aim is to enable people to continue independently exploring nature to improve their long-term mental health.

The project follows a pilot programme of similar design for people diagnosed with anxiety or depression carried out at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre. Here, participant’s levels of stress and anxiety were reduced through regular, guided access to wetlands, with the group overall moving up a clinical mental health grade from below average to average.

The ‘on the ground’ element of the Blue Prescribing project will be supported by an online nature-based, mental health self-management course. Participants transport will be fully funded and financial support will be available to increase online access to help ensure the project is available to all.  

Dr Jonathan Reeves, Principal Research Officer (Health & Wellbeing) from WWT said: “The benefits of getting out in nature for our mental wellbeing has become well known during the pandemic, but those experiencing mental health problems, and those most at risk, still face greater barriers to accessing nature. They are more likely to live in urban areas with fewer natural spaces and less likely to have the means to travel to those spaces. The Blue Prescribing scheme at London Wetland Centre aims to enable greater access to ‘watery’ wetland nature to those that most need it. The blue and green space found in wetlands seems to be particularly beneficial as demonstrated by today’s MHF research showing that being by water provides the biggest positive impact on people’s mental health compared to all other ways to connect with nature”

He added: “Our science and feedback from participants on our Slimbridge programme tells us that Blue Prescribing works, is cost effective and that the participant’s love it and want more.  We’re really excited to be able to roll out a bigger version of the project for Londoners”

Jolie Goodman, Programmes Manager for Empowerment and Later Life from the MHF commented: “Many people in Britain get no support for their mental health from the NHS. Projects like Blue Prescribing which will start at the London Wetlands Centre later this summer are a way for people to protect their own mental health and prevent them needing crisis support. We are delighted to be working with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust to support people from a range of communities to keep in good mental health by connecting with wetland nature next to water.

A participant who took part in the Slimbridge Blue Prescribing pilot project said: “Usually I am just switching four walls for another four walls. This is something bigger than myself. It’s something to be connected to”.

The project has been fully funded by Simplyhealth, the UK’s leading health solutions company.”

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