A new project hosted at a leading wildlife centre in London aims to help people with poor mental health benefit from being closer to nature.
Hosted by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) London Wetland Centre, the Blue Prescribing scheme will allow up to 300 people experiencing poor mental health to take part in a 6-week programme of nature-based activities.
The initiative, which will begin this summer and continue until the end of the year, is based on the concept that being around blue and green spaces can benefit people experiencing stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression.
A recent YouGov poll released by the Mental Health Foundation adds to the evidence supporting this idea, with 65% of respondents saying that being around bodies of water – from coasts and rivers to lakes and ponds – improves their mental wellbeing.
Other research has shown that natural environments have proven to be a mental health crux for many during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet further findings from the Mental Health Foundation say that 1 in 10 people find it very difficult to access green spaces.
“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," said Dr Jonathan Reeves, Principal Research Officer (Health & Wellbeing) at WWT. "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."
Co-designed by the WWT and the Mental Health Foundation, the scheme aims to enhance participants' knowledge of wetlands and the mental health benefits they can bring, with the end goal being to inspire people to independently explore nature for their own wellbeing.
Participants in the Blue Prescribing programme will be supported by an online nature-based, mental health self-management course, while any benefits or drawbacks reported will be scientifically analysed.
The scheme follows the success of a pilot study by WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre which, through guided access to the wetlands, saw an overall improvement in people diagnosed with anxiety or depression of a complete clinical grade from 'below average' to 'average'. “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," added Reeves. "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 at the Mental Health Foundation, also commented on the programme: “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."
To find out more about the Blue Prescribing project, visit the WWT London Wetland Centre website here.
This week, the Mental Health Foundation is encouraging people to 'connect with nature' as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. To find out more about the Foundation's #ConnectWithNature campaign, click here.
Written by Marco Ricci
Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health