Physical exercise in the countryside should become a frontline treatment for mental health problems, says a leading charity.
The charity Mind says research from a study it commissioned found 94 per cent of people reported “green” activities to have benefited their mental health, lifting depression.
The charity says there is “a mass of new and growing evidence” for “ecotherapy” to be recognised as a clinically-valid frontline treatment for mental health problems.
Ecotherapy can include walking regularly in a park, flying a kite or participating in a gardening therapy project.
Mind says the UK should follow the lead of other European countries, such as Holland which already has 600 “care farms” providing ecotherapy, including agriculture work on farms.
A new Mind report, entitled Ecotherapy: The Green Agenda For Mental Health, includes findings from a University of Essex study which concluded that 71 per cent of people reported decreased depression after a walk. More than 70 per cent said they felt less tense, and 90 per cent had increased self-esteem.
Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer said: “Mind sees ecotherapy as an important part of the future for mental health.
“It’s a credible, clinically-valid treatment option and needs to be prescribed by GPs, especially when for many people access to treatments other than antidepressants is extremely limited.
“Hundreds of people have benefited from the green projects run by our local Mind associations but if prescribing ecotherapy was part of mainstream practice it could potentially help the millions of people across the country who are affected by mental distress.”
Mind’s report makes a number of recommendations including that referrals to care farms should be incorporated into health and social care referral systems.