Country walks 'can help reduce depression'
By Nicola Boden, PA
Published: 14 May 2007
Country walks can help reduce depression and raise self-esteem according to research published today, leading to calls for "ecotherapy" to become a recognised treatment for people with mental health problems.
Ecotherapy: the green agenda for mental health is the first study looking at how "green" exercise specifically affects those suffering from depression.
According to Mind, England and Wales's leading mental health charity, it produced "startling" results proving the need for ecotherapy to be considered a proper treatment option.
The study by the University of Essex compared the benefits of a 30-minute walk in a country park with a walk in an indoor shopping centre on a group of 20 members of local Mind associations.
After the country walk, 71% reported decreased levels of depression and said they felt less tense while 90% reported increased self-esteem.
This was in contrast to only 45% who experienced a decrease in depression after the shopping centre walk, after which 22% said they actually felt more depressed.
Some 50% also felt more tense and 44% said their self-esteem had dropped after window-shopping at the centre.
The university also conducted a second study, asking 108 people with various mental health problems about their experiences of ecotherapy.
A massive 94% said green activities had benefited their mental health and lifted depression while 90% said the combination of nature and exercise had the greatest effect.
Mind describes ecotherapy as "getting outdoors and getting active in a green environment as a way of boosting mental well-being".
Its chief executive Paul Farmer believes it will play an important part in the future of mental health treatments.
He said: "It is a credible, clinically-valid treatment option and needs to be prescribed by GPs, especially when for many people access to treatments other than anti-depressants is extremely limited.
"We're not saying that ecotherapy can replace drugs but that the debate needs to be broadened."
If it was prescribed as part of mainstream practice, ecotherapy could potentially help millions of people across the country, he added.
It would also be vastly cheaper than anti-depressant drugs, has no side-effects and is readily available on everyone's doorstep, according to Mind.
The charity claims anti-depressant prescriptions are at an all-time high with over 31 million written last year, up 6% on the number written by GPs the year before.
Statistics show that within this figure, prescriptions for SSRIs (Serotonin Specific Reuptake Inhibitors) including Prozac have risen by 10%.
The UK is also lagging behind Europe in its use of care farms to treat mental distress, compared to countries like Holland where patients are prescribed agricultural work, Mind argues.
Holland has 600 farms operating as a fully integrated part of the health service but it is a relatively new concept here with only 43 in existence.
None of these are aimed at mental health, the majority are self-funded and there is no national framework, according to the charity.
The ecotherapy report will be launched today at the start of Mind week, which is dedicated to raising awareness about the learning disability and the mental health charity.
It will hold a mass kite flying event in Primrose Hill in London this morning, where 100 kites will be flown by campaigners and mental health service users.
Among them will be Miss Great Britain Preeti Desai who gave up college at the age of 18 to care for her mother, Hema, who has suffered from depression for many years.
Noel Gallagher's ex-wife Meg Mathews, who has herself battled depression, is also part of the campaign although she is not due to attend the launch.