The Irish Green Prescription for Mental Health

Sky Through the Forest

I’ve talked about the importance of the outdoors and general communing with nature in maintaining health in previous posts.  The people in Ireland are taking the notion even further.

The Green Prescription

A group called Nature, Health, and Wellbeing Ireland is initiating a program called the Green Prescription Initiative.The initiative runs along the lines of Shinrin-Yoku and the Nature prescription but is specifically aimed at people facing high stress and mental health or emotional issues.  It also directly involves a social worker and psychologist to support the individuals that will participate.  The program simply offers two hour walks each week for eight weeks in three outdoor locations in the Dublin area. The professionally guided group walks will focus on nature contact, mindfulness, physical activity, expressive arts, and social connection.  All components associated with mentally health people.

Woodlands for Health

National ParkA similar program operated through Wicklow Mental Health Services is called Woodlands for Health.  It has been in operation in the Wicklow area, south of Dublin, since 2012.  It offers a continually-repeating, 12 week program of nature walks.  The supporting idea is simply that the combination of walking and talking in a natural setting, with physical activity, will promote an improved sense of well-being.

According to The Irish Times, January 2, 2016, Health Services Ireland and University College Dublin evaluated the program and found that participants improved their mood by 75 percent and sleep by 66 percent.  Thoughts of suicide declined by 82 per cent.  At the same time, many participants reported less agitation and anxiousness.  Some were even able to reduce their medications and doctor visits.

Well-A-Head

Mind Your NatureWell-A-Head is a spin off of Woodlands for Health that removes the institutional connection.  It is a member led social support group for those with mental health issues.  Essentially it is like a hiking club with broader interests.  The group is involved in tai chi, kayaking, yoga, crotchet, team building, use of an outdoor gym, gardening, walking and social evenings plus parachute jumping.

This concept offers a healthful place for socializing and building friendships while in the positive embrace of nature.

Scientific Support

There is all kinds of scientific support for these interventions and I have mentioned some of the studies in past posts.  Here’s another:

In a Stanford study,  “Nature Experience Reduces Rumination and Subgenual Prefrontal Cortex Activation,”  researchers found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression. Co-author Gretchen Daily said, “These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world. Our findings can help inform the growing movement worldwide to make cities more livable, and to make nature more accessible to all who live in them.”

Conclusion

As more and more research is supporting the importance of nature for mental health, mental health practitioners are bringing more of their clients outdoors.  It s clearly an effective method.  Beyond that, one doesn’t need a diagnosed mental health issue to take advantage of nature.  It’s good for everyone!

 

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