By Helen Gillespie, Project Coordinator
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 October). The theme of this year’s week is “Connect with nature for good mental health and wellbeing”.
The theme reflects DOC’s new partnership with the Mental Health Foundation, which came about from our Healthy Nature Healthy People work linking the health and wellbeing benefits of time spent in nature to our work in conservation.
The Mental Health Foundation is working to get people to look after their mental health in the same way they look after their physical health. That means actively working to improve your state of mind in order to stay well. By investing time and energy in maintaining, restoring and improving our mental health, we benefit, and so to do those around us!
Most people who spend time outside feel better for it, and that feeling is being confirmed by a growing body of evidence that shows the physical, mental and social benefits of spending time in nature.
Sigmund Freud defined mental health as “the capacity to work and to love”. Simple enough and considered by many health professionals to be accurate.
The World Health Organisation has a slightly more wordy definition: “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
The statistics say that 48% of us will experience poor mental health in our lifetime. Alarmed? What about this one? Depression is set to overcome heart disease as the biggest health burden by 2020 (yes that is just three years away!).
The good news is we can all take simple steps to improve and maintain our mental health, including getting out into nature.
Spending time in nature improves mental health and wellbeing. It is proven to improve your mood, concentration and attention and can reduce pulse rate and stress hormones. If you are an office worker, getting these benefits is as simple as heading outside and finding some sort of nature to spend time in, or notice, or just enjoy being in.
If nature is your workplace, as it is for our DOC staff, recent research indicates you still need to make some sort of change to get the benefits. This might be taking a break and enjoying a lovely view while having lunch, or taking small pauses from your work to really look at and appreciate something you’ve seen.
DOC is working with partners in the area of mental health because the places we manage help people feel better, and that provides a powerful way of connecting people with our conservation work.
Trawling through early hut books reveals the effect that nature has on people. On rainy hut-bound days some visitors are inspired to write poems and narratives about journeys, memorable moments, pesky rats in water tanks and kiwis keeping them awake, to name a few. One particular entry in the Explorer Hut hut book from January 1980 captures the power of connecting with nature.
Lush native bush
Crystal clear waters
Caressing the senses
And enchanting the mind
So, what does your ‘capacity to work and love’ feel like right now? Get some time outdoors and reflect on that question again. Nature is everywhere – at the very least step outside.
Find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week, including all the competitions and events that are taking place around New Zealand on the Mental Health Awareness Week website.