By Leonie Fechney and Katrina Henderson.
Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week, with the theme Nature is Key – Unlock Your Wellbeing and the goal to get people to connect with everyday nature – the natural environment they live and work amongst every day.
It is important to remember that it is not just the open landscapes where we can find ways to increase our wellbeing in nature – local parks in the middle of your town or city, daisies in the berm, the tree outside your office window, the sky, the hills in the distance … urban environments are full of opportunity if we step outside the office door.
Why Mental Health Awareness Week, and why is nature so important?
MHAW has been run by the Mental Health Foundation since 1993, and is endorsed by the World Federation for Mental Health. DOC has an MOU with the Mental Health Foundation under the Healthy Nature, Healthy People initiative, and this year MHAW leads into Conservation Week with the theme Love My Backyard.
One of the key things that both organisations have in common is nature – nature for the health of people as well as nature for its own health. Unfortunately, a large (and growing) number of New Zealanders have lost contact and connection with nature, leading to a decline in wellbeing. Reconnecting people with nature will not only help the individual, but it will also have a positive impact on conservation – people who are connected to and value the natural world are more likely to notice if we are losing it and care enough to try and save it.
Connecting with nature is great for everyone’s mental health. It:
• Makes us feel happier and more optimistic
• Restores us when we’re feeling low
• Reduces stress
• Improves life satisfaction
• Can help people to recover mental illnesses – for example, it can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. In Canada, a study of adults with serious mental illness found that those who went for walks in nature reported significantly higher happiness and energy levels, as well as decreased anxiety
• Boosts our moods
• Improves resilience, which helps people to manage stress, maintain positive mental health and respond well when life gets tough
• Makes us feel our lives are meaningful
• Makes us feel more connected to others – more caring, more likely to help others, kinder
• Research suggests that nature’s positive effects on our wellbeing are underappreciated – children today spend less time outdoors than any generation in human history.
How to get involved
• There are events all around NZ for Mental Health Awareness Week – check the MHAW website.
• There’s a colouring competition for children encouraging them to draw in what they see in the world around them – a great template too for adults who love to colour!
• The 15 day photo-a-day challenge is a great way look at nature, possibly in a different way than we do every other day. There are 15 different themes to help us look at the bigger picture and appreciate some things that we might not have previously considered.
• Participate in the nation-wide Workplace Lockout – send staff outdoors at 12pm on World Mental Health Day (10 October) to spend some time connecting with the natural environment.
• Open your door and explore…
Find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week and how you can get involved on their website.