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Nature and our mental health: An interview with Jolie Goodman of the Mental Health Foundation

Posted on 08 Oct 2020

During Spring 2020, 85% of adults reported that being in nature makes them very happy and this was consistent across different population groups (The People & Nature Survey for England 2020). Social prescribing and embedding an urban wellbeing network of wild spaces are ways we can make nature more accessible for all.

Read more about how this works, and her personal relationship with water, nature and wellbeing, in our interview with Jolie Goodman from the Mental Health Foundation, our partner charity helping us in our aim to make the Blue Prescriptions social prescribing project a reality.

My job title at the Mental Health Foundation is Programmes Manager for Empowerment and Later Life.

There are two parts to my role. Firstly, overseeing different projects for adults and older people. We facilitate groups in later life housing schemes in London and North East Wales. This brings people together to have conversations about the things they have in common and their passions.

I am also an artist and we have two projects in London which focus on creativity, Creating Communities and Drawing Neighbours Together. In the pandemic we have been working remotely, over the phone and digitally. The second part of my job is to develop new projects for the Programmes Team. Over the last year I have been working in partnership with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust to seek funding for the Blue Prescriptions Project. This will combine being outside in WWT sites with a structured course to support people to prioritise looking after their mental health.

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I have always been aware that if I can get outside, preferably in nature, this will lift my spirits. Walking in parks in south London during the Pandemic has been an essential part of looking after both my physical and mental health this year.

A highlight of my year was the first time I braved public transport and got on a train to Hastings for a day trip. I had a swim in the morning, in July, very soon after I arrived. As a Londoner, it was so amazing to be swimming in the sea, looking both at the horizon and at the Hastings seafront, that I was completely unaware if the sea was cold or not.

If people are experiencing poor mental health it can be incredibly difficult to leave the safety of your home and get outside. The front door can be a huge barrier. If you have grown up in a city you may not feel safe in nature particularly when life is challenging. People may also not live near green or blue spaces and accessing transport is more complicated at the moment. If you are feeling stressed and anxious it can feel easier to stay indoors.

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The Covid-19 Pandemic has made life that much harder. There are initiatives to support people to access nature if they are struggling with their wellbeing. Some GPs are involved in social prescribing projects where a local nature based organisation will help people to get involved in their work. There are also volunteering opportunities in parks, for example in wildlife gardens.

On a practical note, if you are aware that you are finding it difficult to get out it can be helpful to make a plan which you then break into small steps. You start to attempt the steps while being deliberately kind and compassionate to yourself because it may take a bit of time to achieve. You can get the help of friends or family if that is possible or useful, in a safely socially distanced way. Campaigns run by nature-based charities such as WWT can also be a good starting point.

Looking after your mental health

The Mental Health Foundation has a wealth of resources full of simple, inexpensive and practical tips to help you look after your mental health, as well as specific mental health advice related to the challenges of lockdown.

Public Health England

Public Health England has developed explicit guidance on mental health in the crisis. If you want to develop a personalised plan for supporting your mental health you can also visit the PHE Every Mind Matters site, developed in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation.

Wetlands and wellbeing

We're researching ways that wetlands can help our wellbeing, so everyone will recognise the amazing things nature can do for both us and wildlife.

Find out more