It’s widely accepted that interacting with nature can improve your mental health. To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (8-14 May), we wanted to share Paul Barclay’s story, originally published in the November 2016 edition of our magazine, Scottish Wildlife.
Being outdoors, among nature, makes people feel better. This is a theory that’s increasingly gaining traction and it’s one I really believe in. In 2016, I began working in Cumbernauld with the Scottish Wildlife Trust on a mental health project called Wild Ways to Wellbeing, which aims to turn this theory into fact.
I have to admit that I have a personal stake here – I’ve suffered from mental health problems all my life. Only a few years ago I was almost completely unable to function in society, confined to my home by panic attacks, social anxiety and depression.
Over the years, I’d tried all sorts of ‘cures’ – medication (with its crippling side effects); meditation; hypnosis; relaxation; ‘self-help’ courses; talking therapies; exposure therapies; cognitive behavioural therapy; even a device that delivered electric shocks to my head!
This whole process was incredibly expensive for the NHS, and mentally and physically exhausting for me.
Crucially, none of it worked. I’d been like this for most of a decade and the consensus was that I would never get any better, would never hold down a job or live “normally”. I was without hope and dangerously depressed.
But there was one chink in the armour of my illness – I loved wildlife. I loved nature. I didn’t know anything about it, but I knew that I wanted to learn. And when you’re in the grip of depression, actually wanting to do something is a miracle all in itself.
So I tried one last time. I began to study wildlife and conservation. Slowly I expanded my horizons, I came across some amazing people and organisations that took a chance on helping me and I began volunteering.
In 2014, I was lucky enough to land my first-ever job with the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative, which built my confidence to the point that when I learned that Cumbernauld Living Landscape and The Conservation Volunteers were looking for a trainee to work on a mental health project, I knew I had to apply.
The Wild Ways to Wellbeing project combines exposure to nature with a mental health concept called the Five Ways to Wellbeing. I hadn’t known it, but I’d used the five ways – be active, take notice, keep learning, connect and give – as tools in my own journey.
Using this structure, we take groups of people suffering from, or at risk of, mental health problems out among the trees and greenspaces to experience how being outdoors, interacting with nature, can change lives.
It’s early days, but so far the results are very positive and I feel privileged to have been able to contribute in a small way. Being outdoors among nature is making us all feel better – who would have thought it?
by Paul Barclay, Community Networks Officer, Cumbernauld Living Landscape