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World Mental Health Day 2021: How nature and green spaces can improve our mental health

Many of us are aware of how important it is to look after our physical health. From eating a healthy, balanced diet to taking regular exercise, we know it’s important to look after our bodies if we want to live a long and healthy life.

But what about looking after our mental health, how many of us take the time to invest in our mental wellbeing too?

World Mental Health Day 2021

Sunday 10 October 2021 marks World Mental Health Day 2021, an international awareness event launched by the World Federation for Mental Health in 1992, which aims to promote mental health advocacy and educate global communities about mental health challenges experienced by people all over the world.

To mark World Mental Health Day 2021, we’re looking at the increasing role parks, allotments, and green spaces play in supporting our mental health and wellbeing.

How parks support our mental health

We’ll start by looking back to March 2020, and the first coronavirus lockdown in England. Newcastle’s parks, allotments and green spaces became a haven for people during this time, providing a place for people to escape the confines of their homes and spend time enjoying clean, fresh air, as well as the sights and sounds of nature. Our parks and allotments were particularly important for people with no access to a garden, and those living in urban areas of the city.

We received hundreds of messages from park users during lockdown telling us how important our city’s green spaces were to them, with many people expressing the positive impact they were having on their mental wellbeing.

The link between spending time amongst nature and its positive impact on our mental health is well documented. Numerous studies have shown the beneficial impact images and sounds of nature can have on stress levels, and research has found that the psychological wellbeing of a population can be associated with its proximity to green spaces.

Newcastle’s natural capital account

Urban Green Newcastle supported research into the health and wellbeing benefits of the green spaces we manage as part of the city’s first ever Natural Capital Account.

The findings showed the estimated six million recreational visitors to Newcastle’s parks and allotments every year generate a collective £45m in physical health benefits and £83m in mental health benefits; an average of £22 in health and wellbeing benefits per visit. 

The Natural Capital Account report - which models the monetary value of the green spaces we look after - shows that our parks and allotments help people live healthier and happier lives, and that spending time in nature is good for us.

Green social prescribing

The link between nature and improved mental wellbeing is so compelling it’s led to a change in the way health professionals are treating some mental health issues, like depression, anxiety and mood disorders.

Green social prescribing is being seen as a new, innovative way to treat certain mental health issues. GPs can now connected people to nature-based interventions and activities - such as local walking for health schemes, community gardening and food-growing projects - as part of their recommended treatment.

In July 2020, the UK government announced a £4m investment in preventing and tackling mental ill health through green social prescribing. The funding amount was later increased to £5.77m with additional contributions from NHS England and NHS Improvement, Sport England and the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP).

You can read more about green social prescribing here.

Bringing nature into our cities

Urban greening is seen as another sustainable way to tackle mental health problems. A Canadian study reported in the New Scientist found that adding just 10 trees to a city block has a huge impact on people’s perceptions of their health and wellbeing.

Urban Green Newcastle wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the pandemic calling for more investment in green infrastructure, citing the benefits it would make to the nation's mental and physical health, as well the impact it would have on reducing demand on the NHS.

Newcastle City Council is leading the way when it comes to urban greening. As part of the city’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, Newcastle City Council is investing millions of pounds in a major city centre transformation that will see new green gateways introduced, and a ‘heavy emphasis on greenery, with trees and planting, and public artwork’. You can read more about the plans on newcastle.gov.uk.

Improving our mood through physical exercise

Parks, allotments and greens spaces help us stay active, which in turn improves our mood. Physical exercise - be it walking, running, or play – has been shown to increase self-esteem and reduce many mental health conditions.

Newcastle’s parks and green spaces provide a place for people of all ages and abilities to get out and active. Exhibition Park, Leazes Park and Jesmond Dene host the weekly Newcastle parkrun, and free-to-access tennis courts and basketball courts can be found in Armstrong Park, Exhibition Park, Leazes Park, Elswick Park, Gosforth Central Park, Nuns Moor Park, Paddy Freeman’s Park and Walker Park.

There are also 11 grass pitches available for hire in five of Newcastle’s parks for people more interested in groups sports like football and rugby. You can find more information and book a pitch on our website, urbangreennewcastle.org.

Where to find help and support

If you are suffering from a mental health problem and would like to speak to someone about it, please contact your GP, or you can speak to Tyneside and Northumberland Mind by calling 0191 477 4545 or visiting www.tynesidemind.org.uk.

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