How nature helps our service users with their mental health
Connecting with nature has proven to be a powerful ally in the battle against a range of mental health challenges. Research on ecotherapy, a form of treatment involving outdoor activities, reveals its positive impact, indicating links between physical activity, social interaction, and the therapeutic effects of nature.
Green Minds: Nurturing mental wellbeing in Leamington and Stratford
In recognition of the struggle to find reasons to venture outdoors, especially during the challenging winter months, SWWMind initiated the Green Minds programme in Leamington and Stratford. This project offers a unique blend of gardening, outdoor activities, and community engagement to enhance mental wellbeing.
Meet the Leaders: Trevor, Liz and Keith
Trevor, lead volunteer for Green Minds Leamington along with Liz, joined the group in 2016 after retiring from a 40-year indoor profession. His love for the outdoors and a desire to contribute led to the establishment of the programme.
Why does he love leading Green Minds? Living on his own, Trevor loves the social interaction, it makes him step out of his comfort zone and make an effort to be outgoing. He enjoys company of people he knows he can help and loves gardening and open air. It gives him purpose and it’s a commitment to turn up each week.
Liz, also a trustee for the charity, has been with Green Minds the same amount of time and has a passion for helping people with their mental wellbeing.
Keith, lead volunteer for Green Minds Stratford, drew inspiration from his agricultural background to add serious value to the group. He has previously worked overseas in Kenya and helped in their school garden, and subsequently back home he worked on the family farm. He loves Green Minds for the physical, social and mental benefits, and helping people to leave the sessions feeling better brings him much satisfaction.
Voices of Green Minds: Service users share their stories
Donna, a participant for seven years, highlights how the programme helps to take her mind off reality and maintain a balance, as well as providing a social outlet, especially in wintertime. Living on her own, she says she notices her mental health is not as good when she doesn’t come to the group.
For Tony, who has been a regular for nearly two years, the project has been a lifeline. After a life event triggered anxiety and depression, the SWWMind team referred him to Trevor at Green Minds. He’s always loved outdoors, after attending agricultural college in his early 20s he went on to become a farm worker and operated various machinery there. That’s proved useful as he is now a dab hand at repairing the Green Minds mowers!
He sees the programme as a great uplift. He was put on medication by his doctor, but states that Green Minds was more beneficial to his wellbeing, in his words; “Working outdoors and connecting with nature is a key to better mental health. It gives me a huge sense of worth and fulfilment, I’ve made new friends, which can otherwise be difficult when you’re retired!”
Other volunteers include Sandy and her son Matt. Sandy is always glad for a reason to come out in the morning as the weather tries to keep you inside, especially during the winter months. She’s been coming to the Green Minds since Covid, she loves the fresh air which brings both mental and physical benefits.
Her son Matt finds it relaxing being outside enjoys the social activity and interaction. We have it from a reliable source that he’s an extremely hard worker!
Other service users derive various benefits, such as alleviating symptoms associated with agoraphobia and paranoia, fostering a genuine sense of purpose, providing a therapeutic escape, and aiding individuals coping with dementia.
What could you be doing in Winter at Green Minds?
Granted, it takes more willpower to show up during the colder, darker months. But the benefits to both individuals and the gardens and allotments are vast, this is a snapshot of what’s going on, on a typical December day:
- Collecting dahlia tubers from the beds, to put them in the greenhouse as they won’t survive the winter. They will be ready to replant after the frost early next Spring.
- Planting garlic, onions, and broad beans, as these plants can survive the frost, ensures an early harvest the following year.
- Replenishing the hedges and making them more secure, to discourage certain animals from damaging the crops. In Leamington they once spotted a muntjac stealing the sweetcorn!
- Creating, refilling and repairing the bird feeders.
- Helping to clear the leaves and tidy up the beds.
- Clearing the goat manure (yes, you heard that right!) and adding it to the compost heap, it’s very fertile!
- Creating and maintaining the pond.
- A few weeks earlier, they harvested their bumper pumpkin crop ready for carving and curried soups!
- Enjoying some winter-warming bonfires with all the debris collected from the allotments.
- Ordering seeds and planting trees
The best selection of fruit and vegetables
Of course, during the summer months, the Green Minds garden and allotment boast a diverse array of fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, pears, blackcurrants, raspberries, gooseberries, rhubarb, potatoes, spinach, hazel bushes and much more. New trees, generously funded by Lifeways Therapy Centre, enhance the space, contributing to a thriving and vibrant outdoor haven.
All year round, Green Minds continues to serve as a testament to the transformative power of nature in fostering mental well-being. The program stands as a living testimony to the positive impact that cultivating the earth can have on nurturing the human mind.
The projects, in Leamington and Stratford, are free and open to all, and take place on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.