The challenges of this year have been hugely disruptive for children and young people, causing increasing anxiety, worry, stress and uncertainty about the future. But even at the height of the pandemic, being in gardens, parks and other green spaces has become a top coping strategy, with 45% of people saying that being among nature was important for looking after their mental health.*
To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s theme of nature, we spoke to Lorna Fox from Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust about the positive impact nature can have on mental health.
During lockdown, green spaces have provided individuals and families alike with much needed respite. Do you think the pandemic has changed our connection with nature?
It’s had a surprisingly beneficial impact on our connection with nature. We have seen more people access our nature reserves across the county than ever before, and many people who otherwise might not have spent time in the outdoors, spending time getting connected to nature.
Our vision is one where each year there is more wildlife, more wild places and more people with a connection to the natural world where they live in the county. We know the natural environment is crucial in supporting all of our mental health and wellbeing and we therefore work to encourage all people and communities in Gloucestershire to connect to nature. We really want to harness the new appetite for the natural environment where you live and have created a show called ‘The Muck Show’ to get people engaged and connected with nature, learning amazing facts about nature and having lots of fun at the same time.
What does the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust do to encourage children and young people to engage with nature?
Here at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust we carry out multiple activities, events and projects for children and young people across Gloucestershire to support their mental health and wellbeing. We run a formal learning programme where we engage with all primary and secondary schools across the county, inviting them to take part in sessions where we encourage pupils to connect to nature and learn about the natural environment in real life. We also run an informal programme of activities for children, such as our Nature Tots for pre-schoolers, where fun activities are delivered at Crickley Hill and Greystones Farm. As part of our Restore Our Future project, funded by the Ernest Cook Trust, we also go in to schools and work with pupils to enhance their school green spaces to better connect with nature.
In addition, we’re funded by the National Lottery through the National Lottery Community Fund to deliver on a project called Our Bright Future, where we engage with 11-24 year olds to support their mental health and wellbeing, using the natural environment. Plus we’re set to deliver on a commissioned project for Gloucestershire’s Clinical Commissioning Group, to support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing by connecting them to nature through Wild Wellbeing Days and a Nature Programme – watch this space!
What are the benefits of children and young people spending time in nature?
Children’s mental health can benefit from being in nature just by being present – connecting, listening to the sounds of nature for example, observing, learning, being active, giving or making something. I used to be a primary school teacher and seeing children running around in the playground on a windy day was brilliant. The wind would increase some of their running speeds, my class would say, and they would whizz around with a real sense of freedom and without a care in the world.
We see a huge difference in all children who attend our groups and join in with our activities – for some, the difference is more apparent and for others, it’s more subtle. The main difference is the sense of achievement, the enhanced understanding of the natural environment, the sense of freedom and personal choice, a greater love for their local area, the skills learnt and the awe and wonder that they experience. All of this, in addition to how much more interactive many children become, contributes to a greater sense of health and wellbeing.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week! What are Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust doing to promote good mental health and wellbeing?
In lockdown we wrote a ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ leaflet that shared several ways to get connected to nature and support your mental health and wellbeing, using the NHS’s five ways to wellbeing. We distributed these to over 1,000 households in Gloucestershire last year. Thanks to commissioning from the County Council, we are currently working with carers across the county, to get them connected to nature through horticulture and getting into the outdoors. We’re also running courses at Robinswood Hill and inviting all carers to get in touch with us if they’d like to participate.
Email [email protected] for further information.
Finally, do you have any top tips on how to connect with and enjoy nature?
Have a look at our Five Ways to Wellbeing Leaflet where you’ll find a wide selection of tips on how to connect with and enjoy nature – in your local area, or further afield in Gloucestershire.
Download the Five Ways to Wellbeing Leaflet here.
*Statistics according to The Mental Health Foundation’s recent ‘Mental Health in the Pandemic’ study.
TIC+ offers a Parent Support & Advice Line. If your child lives in Gloucestershire and is between the ages of 0 and 25 and you, as a parent or carer, would like support, please get in touch. To make it easier to reach out for help we offer a choice of ways to contact us on Freephone 0800 6525675 or web-chat. Whichever option you choose, there is no need to make an appointment, drop-in anytime during our open hours.
Alternatively, if you would like to arrange counselling for a young person who lives in Gloucestershire and is aged 9-21, they can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. All they, or someone they trust, needs to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to give us some details so we can arrange an appointment.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.
For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!