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Walking in the countryside lowers depression, raises self-esteem


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 power.

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 records.





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