Depression. Its colour is grey. Of all the psyche’s pains, it is the dullest, the most stagnant ache. It is stale with unhappiness, misery at its most lifeless. Often, it is compounded by the low-level nerve-eroding hum of constant anxiety.
those who move to greener areas have significant and long-lasting improvements in mental health.
Green is good for you. Ecotherapy, supported by Mind among others, is a form of treatment shown to be effective for mental health issues. In my last book, Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape, I explored some of the numerous studies which show the beneficial effects for the mental health of children of having access to green areas: from how playing on asphalt appeared to generate more conflict compared to playing in natural environments, to the value of pets, and the good effects of adventure therapy and forest schools. Very little green stuff is needed. Little but not nothing.
There are studies which link proximity to green space with physical fitness but, although exercise is good for depressives, there is more going on when it comes to mental health and nature. Our minds are not lego sets built for a Bauhaus world. We are not machines; we are animals. Incontrovertibly so, and a cause for celebration. We happily use the term human nature to describe our humanity, and can do so without the fatuous dualism which always seeks to oppose nature to culture. The prevalence of mental health distress tells us one thing as a society: we must be kinder to our human nature and our animal bodies.
If a dog is caged indoors and not allowed to play outside, its owners may be prosecuted for not allowing the dog to « express normal behaviour » according to the law. We humans, wanting outdoor greenery, are expressing normal behaviour and should have rights equal to dogs.
What is it that happens to the human mind in the natural world that no research can ever quite grasp and pin down? The studies, taken collectively, demonstrate the fact that the green stuff is good for the psyche, but they can seldom say exactly why this is the case. And in that margin, many of us who know both depression and a love for nature may feel our way, tendril by tendril, like ivy asking questions of the gaps between the railings and the branch.
In depression, the psyche turns inwards, feeding on itself, for the ill mind demands attention as much as the ill body does. In green spaces, though, the mind is repeatedly invited to turn its gaze outward, to notice, see and hear. When the great psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl articulated Man’s Search for Meaning, one of the areas of meaning he describes as life-saving is that of simply being attentive to, and appreciative of, the natural world. No product. No price. No profit. Nature takes us outside ourselves, making us convivial with the carnival green of the vivid and turning world.
Nature is good medicine for the sick psyche. Nature doesn’t judge and cannot lie, and those are healing qualities.
Judgmentalism and dishonesty are two responses from the outside world that depressives rightly abhor. Many depressives feel torn between needing company and needing solitude: nature provides both, at the same time.
What else happens, then, in this meeting of mind and green? Life happens: wriggly, thriving and green. In all its turning cycles – a season, a snail, a whirlpool of leaves in the wind – the sheer liveliness of the green world is good for the mind, for our psyches are life-lit, and on the lookout for all the vital signs, written in green.
Reblogged from theguardian.com
Photo © luckyraccoon