Forest dwellers extoll benefits of ecotherapy amid mental health crisis and long waiting lists | UK news

The mental health crisis and long waiting lists for therapy have fueled a surge in people looking to alternative treatments with a life-saving “ecotherapy” credit.

A form of ecotherapy that is becoming increasingly popular is known as forest bathing.

It’s a simple method to be quiet and peaceful among the trees, observing the surrounding nature while taking deep breaths, say those who support the idea.

with NHS With five million patients accessing mental health care between 2022 and 2023 in England – an increase of more than a million in five years – people are increasingly seeking refuge in nature to escape the stresses of life modern.

Susanne Meis – forest bathing manager at Kew and founder of Meet in Nature – told Sky News: “The first step is to come and see, hear, smell, touch and experience the forest bathing yourself.”

She added: “I saw thousands of people during and afterCOVID taking advantage of forest clearings.

“Some have told me that bathing in the forest has literally saved their lives, others have said that it has transformed their relationship with nature.”

This practice inspired this year’s winner of the Chelsea Flower Show, where London designer Ula Maria won a gold medal for her woodland bath garden.

Photo: PA
Ula Maria won gold at this year's Chelsea Flower Show for her woodland bath garden.  Photo: PA
Ula Maria won gold at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show for her woodland bath garden. Photos: PA

She described the garden as a place of “comfort and reflection” for those affected by muscular dystrophy, and RHS Chair of Show Garden Judges Liz Nicholson called it “a wonderful piece of woodland edge” that was “immersive , relaxing and soothing”.

According to mental health charity MIND, forest bathing can help both adults and children de-stress and boost health and wellbeing in a natural way.

They add however it should be used alongside others mental health treatments.

Katie Mills, founder and director of Forest and Family, also told Sky News that despite misconceptions, forest bathing does not simply involve “taking off your clothes”.

She believes the practice is growing in popularity around the world and says there are huge benefits when people connect with nature.

Tree for Anjum Peerbaco's ecotherapy piece
Tree for Anjum Peerbaco's ecotherapy piece
Hayley Jarvis of MIND said “some of these projects are trying to fill a gap” in traditional therapies

The idea behind forest bathing originates from a Japanese practice known as shinrin-yoku, which began in the 1980s.

Dr Qing Li, who founded the practice, is credited with saying, “There is no medicine you can take that has such a direct impact on your health as a walk in a beautiful forest.”

Forest bathing consists of slow, mindful activities that focus on what you can see, smell, hear and touch.

Exercises include changing your line of sight, seeing a variety of colors within nature, smelling strongly scented leaves, and experiencing different textures.

Every forest bathing experience can be different. It can usually be done over a period of about two hours with less than a mile of walking.

But it can be practiced even for 10 to 15 minutes, or it can be extended for several days or weeks.

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According to the NHS, around one in five children and young people aged eight to 25 had a possible mental disorder in 2023. In 2017, it was one in nine.

Despite MIND supporting nature in treating mental health, the charity’s head of sport and physical activity, Hayley Jarvis, said: “Ecotherapy is not the only solution, it should be used alongside talking therapies and medication.”

She added: “1.9 million adults are on waiting lists for NHS mental health services.

“Some of these projects are trying to fill a void.”

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