Connect with nature for your mental health

6th May 2021

Dorset HealthCare is encouraging people to embrace nature during Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May) to benefit their wellbeing.

Organised by the Mental Health Foundation, this year’s national campaign theme is nature, highlighting the power of nature and how, during the pandemic, millions of people valued getting outdoors as a coping strategy.

And with restrictions easing, everyone can spend more time outdoors to connect with the natural world on our doorstep – with Dorset offering a huge range of options.

From forests, beaches and rivers to parks, gardens, allotments, window boxes or even house plants, nature is never very far away.

During the week Dorset HealthCare, which provides a range of mental health services across the county, will be sharing top tips, places to visit and suggestions of things to do.

Outdoor activities are already proven to help local people recover from a range of issues.

In Blandford, the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) for older people supports those with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and dementia. Supported by volunteers, the team runs a weekly allotment group for patients to experience nature and boost their motivation, confidence and self-esteem.

Occupational Therapists Rachel Skeats and Rachel Webster organise the group. Rachel Skeats said:

“The allotment not only allows patients to get out in the fresh air and connect with nature but it gives them an opportunity of learning new skills and a sense of purpose. It also gives a feeling of achievement, as the produce grown is sold to Blandford Hospital staff and visitors.”

Rachel Webster added:

“The allotment tasks meet individual needs to ensure every patient can get involved and have that full sensory experience. It also gives people a sense of belonging, a way to connect with others and feel part of the community.”

Margaret Fowler, 82, has been part of the allotment group for nearly four years. She said:

“I suffer with high anxiety and the allotment sessions make me feel relaxed and able to focus while socialising with other people in a peaceful setting. Every time I visit the allotment I learn something new and get a sense of achievement from planting seeds, seeing them grow and knowing the produce will benefit someone else.”

Another initiative run by the Trust is the ‘Trust in Trees’ project. Last year cherry, apple, pear and plum trees were delivered to the Dorset HealthCare-run community hospitals in Alderney (Poole), Blandford, Bridport, Shaftesbury, Sherborne, and Weymouth, plus Bournemouth’s adult mental health inpatient unit Nightingale House.

All the trees were planted in the gardens on site. As well as providing people with a peaceful outdoor space when they need a moment of solace or a short break, the trees enable gardening activities to support patient recovery and produce free fruit to promote healthy eating options.

Ali Lowe, Matron at Shaftesbury’s Westminster Memorial Hospital, said:

“The value of a garden and being surrounded by nature is very much underrated. For me, a garden gives you time to immerse yourself in your surroundings and to forget about all your worries.”

Helen de Jonge, Matron at Weymouth’s Westhaven Hospital, added:

“Our garden provides a haven for both staff and patients. This has been particularly therapeutic during the challenges we have had to face recently.  The apple tree is a lovely addition to enhance the space and has provided staff with a focal point to relax and reflect.”

Steve Jones, Interim Head of Community Mental Health Services at Dorset HealthCare, said:

“It’s important for everyone to look after their minds. Interacting with nature can be not just enjoyable, but also beneficial to our mental health and wellbeing.

“We see first-hand how nature brings value to our patients through projects that we run and how it can aid their recovery.

“Many of us live a fast-paced life, work long hours and have many pressures that affect our mental health. And this is why it’s worth making the time for nature, in whatever way works for you.”

For more information on the mental health services and support provided by Dorset HealthCare, as well as ideas on how to embrace nature during Mental Health Awareness Week, visit


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