We can prevent and tackle mental-ill health through green social prescribing
There is no doubt the past year has been tough for many of us, but together we have shown great resilience in the face of uncertainty. This mental health awareness week, the government is building on our commitment to transform mental health services.
As we begin to ease restrictions in line with the roadmap I know many of us are feeling happier and more energised, and are excited to spend time with family and friends. I am also aware however, that some people may remain anxious or uncomfortable as social restrictions begin to lift. This is entirely understandable. Ahead of the next phase of the roadmap coming into effect on 17 May, and as we enter Mental Health Awareness Week, I want to take the opportunity to outline some of the steps we can take to look after our mental wellbeing.
The theme for Mental Health Awareness week this year is nature. For many, the outdoors has been an important place to boost and protect our physical and mental health. Research from the World Health Organisation and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs shows spending time in the natural environment has both physical and mental health benefits – it can reduce stress, fatigue, improve sleep, and improve our overall wellbeing. It can help bolster immune systems, encourage physical activity and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Simple steps such as increasing physical activity or speaking to friends and family have been invaluable in helping us keep well during the pandemic, and we should look to retain these habits as we move forward. I encourage everyone to reflect on what works for them, and to make use of resources such as Every Mind Matters to maintain positive lifestyle changes.
There is also clear evidence of the importance of nature to help people living with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression to manage their conditions. In recognition of this, we want to deliver our ambition set out in the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan to help more people, from all backgrounds, to engage with and spend time in green spaces in their everyday lives.
To build on our commitment to transform mental health services, we have been working across government on a £5.77 million project to prevent and tackle mental-ill health through green social prescribing by linking people to nature-based activities in their communities. This could include activities such as walking, cycling, community gardening and food-growing projects, and practical conservation tasks such as tree planting.
Our ambition is to support all local health and social care systems to implement social prescribing across the whole country. We are committed to investing £2.3 billion per year to mental health services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, the biggest investment made by any government. Through the Long Term Plan we will expand social prescribing and are on track to have 1,000 new social prescribing link workers, who connect at least 900,000 people to community groups and outdoor activities by 2023/24.
I take the mental wellbeing of everyone very seriously and while I know there is still much to do, this government is resolute in its determination to expand and transform mental health services to ensure everyone has the support they need. You can help us achieve this by telling us what you need, for example by responding to the call for evidence ahead of the first government led women’s health strategy, designed to improve women’s wellbeing - including their mental health.
So, this Mental Health Awareness Week, I want you to invest time in your mental wellbeing - whether that be in nature or other ways you find beneficial. And if you need support, do not hesitate to reach out.