Can nature help to improve your mental health?

natures accessibility
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Here, we discuss Lea Wermelin, Danish Minister for the Environment’s current priorities, such as encouraging those with mental health issues to make the most of Denmark’s green spaces and increasing natures accessibility

In such unprecedented times where the world itself and normalcy as we know it seems to be changing at an extremely fast rate, we need to find ways to support our mental health and the mental health of others. In Denmark, nature is proving a large factor in improving the mental health of vulnerable people, according to Lea Wermelin, Danish Minister for the Environment since June 2019. A trip to the beach and a walk on the sand with bare toes is probably something few people associate with treatment options for the mentally vulnerable. But in recent years, the ongoing Danish project “Fresh in Nature” has offered simple nature experiences such as this to the mentally vulnerable – and the experiences have been positive.

Therefore, over summer this year, Denmark established the initiative “Summer in Nature 2020” with funding to encourage higher participation in outdoor activities, and now we have come to the end of the summer period, we can really see how successful it has been.

In September 2020, it was published that the Danish Nature Agency’s digital nature guides (Denmark’s online guide to experiences in nature), has been more popular than ever before. Hundreds of thousands of people are chasing positive nature experiences. Lea Wermelin said “the interest in getting out into nature this summer is unmistakable. Hundreds of thousands have clicked their way to beautiful hiking trails, shelters by the beach and scenic places to grill the sausages this summer.” The use of this site for online nature guides increased by over 50% from the same period last year, and it has more than 200 digital nature guides on state-owned natural gems throughout Denmark. The guides contain all the information that travel books and guides usually have: Sights, history, animal and plant life, activities, but also practical information about tables, benches, toilets, and parking options.

“The COVID-19 crisis has meant that many of us have opened our eyes even more to our wonderful nature, and to explore new natural gems here over the summer. That was a goal of our summer package for nature. We have just tried to focus on our common nature, so that even more people wanted to go out and explore new and unknown places. The great search for nature experiences speaks for the fact that we have succeeded in inspiring even more people to get going, adds Minister of the Environment Lea Wermelin.

Furthermore, a new partnership between the National Association SIND (the Danish Association for Mental Health) and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency will, as part of the political agreement “Summer in Nature 2020”, spread the good experiences around the country, and ensure that all the country’s municipalities and regions get the opportunity to get acquainted with “Fresh in Nature.” In September 2020 the partnership with SIND was launched, to maximise the positive effects of nature among Danish citizens, ensuring even more people have the opportunity to use nature as a “healing force”.

“We must take care of nature. But perhaps nature can also take care of us. This is what the collaboration with SIND is about, so that more mentally vulnerable people can benefit from getting out into nature. With the new collaboration, we ensure that the experiences are spread to the benefit of the mentally vulnerable throughout the country,” adds Minister Wermelin.

Improving natures accessibility

A large part of Denmark’s effort over summer has been focused on using digital solutions to make nature more accessible to people of all abilities. Udinaturen.dk has therefore got a new search function, which makes it easier to find specific places and facilities such as campsites and hiking trails that are suitable for disabled people. Minister Wermelin stresses that “nature must be easily accessible to everyone. That is a landmark for me. We know that experiences in nature increase health and well-being, both physically and mentally, and everyone must have the opportunity to benefit from it. That is why it is also important that we look at the barriers that are, for example, accessible to people with disabilities.”

Beach clean-up

Denmark is also encouraging their citizens to give back to their communities and take care of the environments that surround them. From September 15 onwards, the Ministry launched the opportunity and opened applications for Volunteers to keep Danish beaches free of plastic and waste by partaking in the ‘beach clean-up pool.” “Nature must be nature – not rubbish bins. The beach clean-up pool is a helping hand to the many volunteers who work hard to keep the beaches free of waste – so everyone else can enjoy a walk along the coasts in our fantastic nature, says the Minister of the Environment. She wants to further understanding that plastic and other waste is a damage to animals, nature, and the environment, and find new ways to combat it, such as banning free carrier bags from 1 January 2021, and pledging to half the consumption of take-away packaging by 2026. “We need to move away from a use-and-throw-away culture, and we can all make a difference so that waste does not end up in nature,” she highlights.

Green spaces, clean beaches, and easy access to nature are essential. As Minister Wermelin stated in a previous article she has written for Open Access Government in May 2020, “we have to get to work, and who says this is not a good thing? Just consider the win-win of reducing, of separating and of managing plastics appropriately. We get plastics out of nature, and we reduce our use of resources and carbon emissions.”

 

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