May 17, 2007:
Suffering from mental depression? Take a walk
in the countryside. It is an effective alternative
to anti-depression treatment using chemicals. It
will also boost your self-esteem.
Mind, a leading mental health charity of England
and Wales, has said ‘ecotherapy’ could help
millions of people with mental health problems
after two studies it commissioned suggested that
it could have significant benefits for sufferers
in most cases.
Prescription of care farms as a treatment has been
highly successful on mainland Europe, but Britain
has failed to follow the example, Mind said,
launching a report titled Ecotherapy: The green
agenda for mental health.
According to Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind,
ecotherapy as an important part of the future for
mental health. It is a credible, clinically-valid
treatment option and needs to be prescribed by
general practitioners, especially when, for many
people, access to treatments other than
anti-depressants is extremely limited.
Researchers from the University of Essex, eastern
England, studied the effect of a 30-minute walk in
a country park, compared with a 30-minute walk in
an indoor shopping centre, on a small sample of 20
people with mental health problems.
It was found that 71% reported decreased levels of
depression and anxiety after the outdoor walk,
while 90% said their self-esteem increased.
This compared with 22% who said their stress
levels increased, 50% who felt more tense, and 44%
whose self-esteem plummeted while indoors.
A second study of 108 people with mental health
problems suggested nearly all (94%) found that
‘green exercise’ boosted their state of mind.
Prescriptions of anti-depressants in the United
Kingdom are at an all-time high, says Mind, with
over 31 million written last year – a 6% increase
from the previous 12 months – because doctors had
no alternatives. In particular, prescriptions of
drugs such as Prozac rose by 10%.
Ecotherapies are cheap, readily available and have
no negative side effects. They involve getting
outdoors and getting active in a green environment
as a way of boosting mental well-being. Be it
taking regular walks in the park, flying a kite or
participating in a gardening therapy project,
green exercise is proven to have huge benefits for
mental health, says Mind.
The prescription of care farms as a treatment for
mental distress has been highly successful in
Europe, but the United Kingdom is lagging far
behind Europe. There are only 43 care farms in the
United Kingdom, none of which is directed at
mental health, compared to 600 in the Netherlands
and 400 in Norway, according to Mind.
Patients suffering from mental distress in the
Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium and
Slovenia are prescribed agriculture work where
they acquire new skills and gain increased
confidence while farmers get paid for providing a
health service and benefit from additional labour
According to Mind, there is often little or no
access to green space in many prisons, despite
evidence that even a view of trees can improve
prisoners’ health and behaviour.
A study of prisoners in Michigan, the United
States, found that those who had cells overlooking
farmland and trees had 24% fewer sick visits than
those in cells facing the prison yard.
Likewise, a 10-year comparative study of
post-operative patients in Pennsylvania, the
United States, showed that hospital stays for
patients with tree views was significantly
shorter, they required fewer painkillers, used
less medication, and nursing staff reported fewer
negative evaluation comments in the medical
BY OUR PHARMA CORRESPONDENT