It’s time to nurture with nature. The positive impact of the great outdoors on managing mental health problems and protecting wellbeing is increasingly well known.
According to the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), getting out into nature has been one of the most effective and popular ways in which people have tried to sustain good mental health throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, with 45 per cent of people reporting that being in green spaces had been vital for their mental health.
In addition, websites showing footage from webcams of wildlife saw hits increase by over 2,000 per cent during the national lockdowns, which also highlights the growing demand, as well as the importance of having access to nature and all the good things it offers.
Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual event that urges the UK to focus on taking steps to achieve good mental health. The MHF started the campaign 21 years ago with the aim of enabling conversations about mental health and how it can be affected day to day.
Throughout the pandemic, countless statistics have emerged revealing the decline of the UK’s collective mental health. For example, an Ipsos Mori poll of 1,065 British adults, published on 13 January 2021, found that six in 10 adults aged 18-75 years found it harder to stay positive than before the pandemic – an eight-point increase since the November lockdown and the highest since Ipsos Mori started tracking the nation’s wellbeing during the pandemic. Many people also reported finding it difficult to stay positive about the future, with just 45 per cent expecting life to return to normal in 2021.
Because of this, this Mental Health Awareness Week couldn’t be more important, and pharmacy teams have a health and social responsibility to help to raise awareness and support mental health in their communities.
For this year’s campaign, the MHF wants as many people as possible, including individuals, communities and governments, to think about connecting with nature and how nature can improve mental health. After all, it’s a free resource offering a multitude of experiences and benefits. “Nature is our great untapped resource for a mentally healthy future,” says Mark Rowland, chief executive of the MHF.
Despite many people recognising the benefits of nature for mental health, many are without private access to it, with around 13 per cent of UK households having no garden. Many people find it hard to access nature because of the location of their home – perhaps in a city centre – or because they have no outside space, but the MHF hopes to use the week to launch new policy requests to enable people greater access to nature. This may include making parks feel safer to use, planting more trees or asking developers to include plants and green spaces in their designs.
“We have two clear aims. Firstly, to inspire more people to connect with nature in new ways, noticing the impact that this connection can have for their mental health. Secondly, to convince decision makers at all levels that access to, and quality of nature, is a mental health and social justice issue as well as an environmental one,” says Mark. “2021 is going be a huge year for nature: a new Environment Bill will go through the UK Parliament that will shape the natural world for generations to come; the UK will host the G7 nations where creating a greener future will be a key priority, and a historic international UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be hosted in Glasgow in November. There could not be a more important time to understand the links between nature and mental health.”
This Mental Health Awareness Week, pharmacy teams can encourage customers to make their mental health a priority, get out and connect with nature, even if that just means taking the time to go for a walk, water houseplants or listen to bird song outside.
Passing on the MHF’s key messages can also be of use. These are:
The most important thing pharmacy teams can do is open up conversations about mental health in the pharmacy and help customers find new ways to explore nature. As the UK heads into spring and the weather continues to improve, pharmacy teams can suggest more customers get outside, the opening up of outdoor sports areas can also be great a way to get customers out into nature and improve mental wellbeing, as well as their physical health.
There are plenty of other health campaigns to get involved in this month, including the following:
Sun Awareness Week: 3-9 May
Melanoma skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, accounting for four per cent of all new cancer cases in 2017, according to Cancer Research UK. Every year the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) runs Sun Awareness Week, which spreads messages on prevention and detection. Pharmacy teams can get involved, firstly by encouraging customers to regularly self-examine for skin cancer – such as changes in the texture, shape, colour and size of their moles – and secondly by teaching people about the dangers of sunburn and excessive tanning, particularly on sunbeds, in light of the associated links to skin cancer. Sun awareness leaflets and posters are available to download from the BAD website.
World Asthma Day: 5 May
Over 339 million people have asthma globally and there were 417,918 deaths across the world in 2016 due to asthma, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Recognising asthma as a major public importance, the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), a WHO collaborative organisation founded in 1993, holds World Asthma Day each May to raise awareness of the condition. For 2021, the theme is “Uncovering Asthma Misconceptions”. The organisation hopes to address commonly held misconceptions of asthma such as that it is infectious, sufferers should not exercise, it is only controllable with high dose steroids and it is a childhood disease. Pharmacy teams can signpost customers to GINA’s Twitter page to access the full compilation of myths and misconceptions about asthma.
National Smile Month: 17 May to 17 June
Pharmacy teams can raise awareness of the benefits of having good oral health and help promote the value of having a healthy smile throughout National Smile Month. Despite the many improvements in oral health over the last 40 years, inequalities continue to be a burden for countless individuals, according to the Oral Health Foundation. This awareness month is therefore a great opportunity for pharmacy teams to reach people in the heart of their communities by sharing the Foundation’s key oral health messages, which include brushing the teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, using mouthwash and cleaning between the teeth with an interdental brush or floss every day and reduce sugar consumption. Resources can be downloaded for free from the National Smile Month website.