Ecominds and the case for ecotherapy
Today sees the launch of Mind’s campaign for ecotherapy and the publication of its ‘Feel better outside, feel better inside’ report (PDF). The document makes the case for ecotherapy as a mental health treatment and as a preventative public health service for all.
In this guest blog, Gavin Atkins explains how the research findings, focused on Mind’s Ecominds programme, show positive benefits to people’s well-being. As we discover, surveyed individuals are also feeling more connected to their communities and wider circles of support.
In 2008, with support from the Big Lottery Fund, Mind funded 130 ecotherapy projects across England. Activities including gardening, food growing, green exercise and conservation work.
Projects such as Parks and Minds in Worthing engage people with mental health problems in maintaining local green spaces, while Green Therapy for the Survivors of Torture works with torture victims from around the world on an allotment in north London.
The Conservation Volunteers national network of Green Gyms brings communities together to increase physical and mental wellbeing through practical activities and Growing Well in Cumbria involves people with mental health problems in organic horticulture, including a successful local veg box scheme.
These are just four projects from across the programme, which worked in total with over 12,000 individuals. An independent evaluation of Ecominds, conducted by the University of Essex, showed that seven in ten people (69%) experienced a significant increase in wellbeing by the time they left an Ecominds project and three in five people (62%) with mental health problems reported an increase in self-esteem.
As well as positive benefits to people’s mental wellbeing, the evaluation pointed to people feeling more connected to their communities and where they lived (81%) and meeting more often with friends and family (57%).
An economic analysis of a range of case studies from the project, conducted by the new economics foundation, found that helping 254 people find full-time employment resulted in potential annual savings and contributions to the State of £1.46 million.
However, the real strength of the programme has been the changes projects have made to people’s lives.
When asked about what they liked, participants talk about reducing social isolation. “I used to spend a lot of time on my own,” said one individual.
“I slept constantly and felt like I had nothing to get up for, I felt alien. Now I’m part of the team and I feel like I have something to get up for in the morning. I enjoy the fresh air and gardening and I get a real sense of achievement and satisfaction when we finish a garden.”
Those who we speak to also talk about finding a sense of purpose; “Gardening gets me out of my flat and gives me something to do with the day,” and the positive effects on their health; “I definitely got healthier and I’ve taken up running since I joined the project.”
Mind is committed to making sure ecotherapy is available everywhere. The report, evaluation and a range of other resources are available on our website at www.mind.org.uk/ecotherapyworks.
On that page you can also send an email to your local Health and Wellbeing Board, asking them to take action on ecotherapy in your area. Join us in our campaign.
Gavin Atkins is Community Portfolio Manager, Mind
What do you think of Gavin’s guest blog? Have you been involved in an Ecominds project? Leave your comment on the blog below of join the conversation on Twitter using Mind’s hashtag, #ecotherapyworks.
Last month, the Big Lottery Fund announced findings from research into our £160m Well-being programme. Visit the research area of our website for all the information.