Lucy Carey, Subject Advisor
In this updated blog I look at some ways in which spending time in nature can have a positive effect on young people’s mental health and well-being.
It’s Youth Mental Health Day on 7 September 2021. This purpose of this day is to encourage young people, and those who support them, to talk about mental health and how to improve it. It’s founded by the charity stem4, and there’s lots of support on their website including downloadable resources and free apps. This year the theme of the day is how young people can Stride Forward with their mental health as we slowly emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. The timing of this day might be important as some students coming back into school at the start of the new term might be feeling more unsettled and apprehensive.
We know that young people’s lives have been drastically affected by the pandemic and the resulting disruption to normal life and education. One way that’s been proven to boost self-esteem, improve concentration and restore balance is to spend time in the natural world.
You don’t have to go on long hikes to reap the benefits of nature. Spending as little as 7 to 10 minutes outside can improve your well-being. The key is to find enjoyable ways to appreciate the outdoors mindfully and consistently. Here are five resources that you might like to use:
Derby University has worked with the National Trust to outline what people can do with nature to help. Tips include simple everyday things, like watching the sunrise, listening to birdsong and watching butterflies and bees, as well as activities that take more time, such as planting something to grow in your garden or on your windowsill, sketching a flower or animal or building a home for animals such as hedgehogs.
The university went on to produce the Nature and Me guide, which looks at five ways to strengthen the relationship between people and nature. These are:
The Thriving in Nature Guide published by the WWF and the Mental Health Foundation is also useful for people in urban areas, with busy lifestyles. It offers tips and ideas for those who are experiencing stress or strains on well-being.
Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe, a lecturer in environmental psychology at the University of Surrey, looked at how listening to birdsong may restore attention and alleviate stress.
The New Scientist has published a wide ranging article looking at the benefits of green spaces for mental well being. Even for city-dwellers, access to nature has been found to improve sleep, reduce negative emotions and increase happiness. In the Shetland Islands, doctors are even able to prescribe nature-based activities such as birdwatching and beach walks to treat mental health conditions and stress!
It is not only green spaces that can help. Some studies have shown that being near water, whether the coast, lakes, rivers or even urban water features – so-called blue spaces – can also benefit our health. So you may well find me braving the cold and going for a plunge in a lido!
Finally, don’t forget to check out the stem4 website for suggestions of how to get involved through your school or community.
Lucy Carey - Subject Advisor
Lucy joined OCR in September 2017 as the Subject Advisor for Sociology and Psychology. Before joining OCR she worked as a teacher as the head of Sociology and Psychology departments in Peterborough, Yorkshire and Cambridge. In her spare time, she enjoys scuba diving and travel – and now maybe a bit of birdwatching too!