The Natural Health Service
Written by David Gaffney, partner
15 May 2021
Research by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that spending time outdoors has been one of the most important activities in helping people cope with the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic and nature was the theme of this year’s mental health awareness week, which is drawing to a close this weekend.
It is a subject and a tonic close to the heart of the journalist, author, and broadcaster Isabel Hardman. Her recent book, The Natural Health Service, documents Hardman’s personal experience of mental illness and the various ways in which connecting with nature – whether looking out of the window at a tree, searching for wild orchids, or exercising outdoors – has become critical to her mental wellbeing and a vital part of her daily routine. It is a manifesto for the natural world’s capacity to help humans heal and maintain equilibrium.
Most of the pieces we have selected this week are on the theme of mental health, with many of them relating to nature. We hope you find them both interesting and useful and that this weekend you’re able to spend some time outside, away from your screens.
1. Health and whale-being
Cautious hugging. That was the surprise phrase of the week, as the prime minister set out the next phase of lockdown easing in England, giving the green light to indoor pints and heedful hugs, two advances that appear to be in natural conflict with each other. Do not fear if you’ve forgotten how to cuddle, though, as a helpful reminder was observed in an unlikely location this week.
Read in National Geographic.
2. The colour of spring
I met the author of the following piece, briefly, when he signed my copy of his book after a talk at the Peebles Outdoor Film Festival 18 months ago. I got to know him a bit better in the intervening months, but only in the very modern sense, in that I follow his various social media accounts and see the photographs and articles he shares there. This article was a reminder that we often understand very little about what’s really going on with people and that this can apply equally to those we know in “real life” as it does to those online connections many of us have now.
Read in Walk Highlands.
3. The brightest shade of green
There are many ways for us to engage with nature and you don’t have to take the plunge into wild swimming or spend a night under the stars to appreciate the natural world and experience the mental and physical wellbeing benefits associated with that connection. In this short photo essay, Michael Wharley explores what nature means to people with very different lived experiences of England.
Read in Ink Journal.
4. A campus crisis
The Covid pandemic has transformed the university and college landscape, robbing countless young people of the formative experience they had no doubt been anticipating. Sadly, in many cases that setback has been compounded by inadequate mental health support on campuses. This is not an isolated phenomenon, but as this article explains, these young people have ideas about how to fix it.
Read in Tortoise.
5. A comfort crisis
The Comfort Crisis, penned by Michael Easter, opens with him about to board a four-seater airplane for a 33-day adventure in the Alaskan Arctic, one of the loneliest, most remote, and most hostile places on earth. It subsequently goes on to suggest that the modern-day comforts and conveniences we have come to take for granted are the source of some of our pressing problems; depression, futility and lack of meaning. Easter advocates turning the dial on our discomfort meters and enthuses about the mental health benefits of a three-day outdoor camping trip. Spoiler alert: we’re fairly sure glamping doesn’t count.
Read in UNLV.
6. Post-vaccine inertia
I’ve often wondered which Covid measures and will prove to have been temporary precautions and which will be more permanent behavioural or societal changes. Are face masks here to stay? Has the handshake had its day as a greeting? What’s clear is that the mental and emotional toll of the last year is making it difficult for some people to transition back to a less cautious way of life, and that a little understanding of those anxieties will go a long way as we all continue to feel our way out of this pandemic.
Read in Vice.
And finally… “Thinking always of my island in the Hebrides…”
The Hebridean island of Jura looms large in any examination of the life of George Orwell, who wrote his dystopian masterpiece 1984 at Barnhill, a remote farmhouse near the northern tip of the island that offered Orwell a way of life he relished. In this excellent long essay, Alex Massie questions the perceived wisdom of those critics who have claimed Orwell hastened his own demise by making his home in what the author himself described as “one of the most beautiful parts of the British Isles.” Of course, he added, “it rains all the time, but if one takes that for granted it doesn’t seem to matter”.
Read in The Times.