People in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are being reminded of the positive impact the natural world can have on mental wellbeing during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (10 to 16 May).
Nature is the theme of this year’s event, which is spearheaded by the national Mental Health Foundation charity and aims to encourage more people to connect with the outdoors.
It is being supported locally by Cornwall Council’s public health team, NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT), as well as other agencies and charities.
All have a range of support and advice services that can help anyone who finds themselves struggling as the pandemic rumbles on. These are listed below.
Research by the Mental Health Foundation and its partners shows that going for walks outside was one of the top coping strategies for people over the past year and around 45% of people reported being in green spaces had been vital for their mental health.
In a survey on accessing mental health support carried out this year by Healthwatch Cornwall, an independent champion for people who use health services in the county, residents also named ‘walks’, ‘air’, ‘sea’ and ‘exercise’ among their stress-busting allies.
Furthermore, during the first lockdown, 96% of those responding to Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Nature in Lockdown survey agreed or strongly agreed that nature has been important for relieving stress and for their mental wellbeing during the first lockdown. Three-fifths of those responding to the survey agreed or strongly agreed that they had connected with nature in a way they hadn't previously.
During Mental Health Awareness Week, people are being asked to do 3 things:
- Experience nature: Take time to recognise and grow your connection with nature during the week. Enjoy a moment in your garden, local park, beach or your favourite walk and celebrate the small wonders of nature in your daily life. You might be surprised by what you notice. Nature is everywhere, even in the middle of towns and villages.
- Share nature: Take a photo, video or sound recording and share the stories of the wildlife you have seen or heard during the week, to inspire others to pause and look around them. Join the discussion on how nature makes you feel by using the hashtags #ConnectWithNature #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
- Talk about nature: You don’t need to be an expert to encourage others in your family, school, workplace and community to find new ways to connect with nature in your local environment. There are some brilliant resources available and local wildlife groups to join if you want to learn more, do more for nature or inspire others.
Dr Richard Sharpe, advanced public health practitioner and lead for mental health services at Cornwall Council, said:
“Nature is a powerful tool for boosting our mental wellbeing and so we wholeheartedly support this theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Here in Cornwall we are blessed with some truly stunning scenery and opportunities to engage with nature and I would urge everyone to do so.
“Even small contacts with the natural world, whether it’s a walk on the beach or simply listening to birds singing in your garden, can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting mental health and preventing distress. It is also important that we protect the environment so future generations can continue to benefit.”
He added: “The pandemic has undoubtedly taken a huge toll on many people’s mental wellbeing and we want everyone to know that it’s ok not to be ok. There is always help and support available for anyone who needs it; no one needs to go through this alone.”
The interim results of the Healthwatch Cornwall survey, which are due to be published soon, suggest that the number of people struggling with anxiety and depression is on the rise. 1
In 2017 around 5% of people in Cornwall stated they had ‘probable depression and/or anxiety’. This increased to 13% in 2020 and 15% in 2021.
Over the same period, the proportion of people with ‘possible depression and/or anxiety’ rose from 22% in 2017 to 44% in 2020, and now to 57% this year.
The Mental Health Foundation survey also revealed that on a national level:
- loneliness has risen throughout the pandemic, from 10% of those surveyed in March 2020 to 26% in February 2021
- fewer UK adults feel they are coping well with the stress of the pandemic. In April 2020, 73% said they were coping well and in February 2021, 64% said this
- feelings of hopelessness across the population showed little change, with 18% of people surveyed saying they had felt hopeless about the pandemic over the previous fortnight, in both March 2020 and February 2021
- 8% of UK adults surveyed in April 2020 said they had had thoughts and feelings about suicide in the previous two weeks. This rose to 13% in February 2021
- young adults (18 to 24 year olds), full-time students, people who are unemployed, single parents and those with long-term disabling health problems and pre-existing problems with their mental health continue to be significantly more likely to be feeling distressed, across a range of measures, compared with UK adults generally
Matthew Patrick, chief executive of Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“The past year or so has seen many of us gain an even greater respect for the fundamentals of good mental health. Things like exercise and being outside in nature have certainly been high on the list of natural remedies for stress, anxiety, and low mood, all of which have been impacted by the pandemic.
“Being in or around green or blue spaces like woods, parks, rivers, lakes or the sea, intrinsically feel like they’re boosting your physical and mental health. There are lots of studies which back-up the emotional benefits of nature too, which is why we see it filtering into healthcare policy. It’s an excellent theme for this year’s national awareness campaign and we are pleased to be working alongside other partner organisations and colleagues on initiatives throughout the week.”
Dr Paul Cook, NHS Kernow chairman and mental health champion, said:
“We are committed to making sure that people’s mental health is supported as much as their physical health. The past year has been an incredible challenge for people mentally, even those who have never suffered with mental health issues before have struggled.
“It will be one of the lasting effects of the pandemic and we are determined as a health and care system to be there for people.”
Tim Francis, head of joint strategic commission for adult mental health, learning disability and autism at NHS Kernow, added:
“We are working even harder than ever to deliver the change we have committed to in our local mental health strategy.
“Delivering the national programme of transformation for mental health, alongside the improvement which our local population have told us they want to see, we believe that people will notice improvements in both their recovery outcomes as well their experience of high-quality services.
“To achieve this, we be promoting greater partnership working between services and developing preventative care and support, which is delivered closer to people’s home. We will remain committed to working alongside people to co-design services and ensure that we respond holistically as we have through the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Find out more about this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week or join the conversation on social media using #ConnectWithNature and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek.