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Using green spaces for mental health recovery

Claire Michie is a Clinical Specialist Occupational Therapist with Sussex Partnership. She’s leading the way at Mill View in creating opportunities to bring patients closer to nature on their journey to recovery.

Using green spaces for mental health recovery

Making green spaces on site

The Trust is keen to do more to support green spaces at its sites, with trees planted up at Swandean, and the creation of the Wander Loop at Langley Green. As Claire explains, “There is a national drive to using green spaces more for recovery and we’re lucky at Sussex Partnership to have Ben Whittaker who champions this. We’re keen to have something at Mill View which like the Wander Loop and have just put in a funding request to support it.”

“In the meantime we have done quite a lot with developing green spaces at Mill View for our wards. We recently developed a beautiful therapeutic garden space on our female ward and have plans to roll out similar on other wards. We were really fortunate to get funding from Friends of Brighton & Hove Hospitals to install outdoor gyms on two of our wards too. It gives some of our patients who are detained and may not be able to leave the ward, access to an environment that is beneficial to their health and recovery.”

In addition to all this Claire is also looking into developing an onsite allotment area that staff, patients and their carers could all get involved with, creating a space to connect with nature and promote wellbeing. She explained, “We’re working closely with the health and safety team to ensure the onsite spaces are safe for everyone, taking into account things like privacy issues where a patient bedroom window might look onto the space.”

Enjoying green spaces out in nature

Prior to meeting Ben, the Mill View occupational therapy team led walking groups for those patients with leave to go out into the community. These groups have recently been adapted to become green walking groups, with the added benefits of connecting with nature and the mindful component that these groups bring. Patients, with staff, are able to follow nature walks in the local area, or around the grounds depending on needs.

Unfortunately the pandemic has impacted on these, and while some could continue on a one on one basis, group walks were not possible for some time. Claire told us, “I am really pleased we can reintroduce these green walks again now. We walk with a maximum of six people to ensure social distancing can be maintained. We often require a minimum of two staff to facilitate a walking group, which sometimes does mean we can’t run one when OT assessments or other interventions require our priority”

What has been the response?

The studies suggest that allowing access to green spaces is great for our wellbeing and Claire has found this very true with the work she has been doing. “We run community meetings to gain feedback from patients and also the Working Together groups. It is clear that patients want access to green spaces and want to be outside as part of their recovery. The walking groups are really popular, and so are the onsite gardening groups and green spaces.”

We know the evidence shows a link between access to green spaces and mental health recovery. You can see a difference in patient’s mood when they have come back from a walk. It helps them see beyond their admission and increase hope for the future. The mindful exercises we do on the walks can have some lovely sensory benefits and evoke positive past memories or aspirations for the future. It really does help people reconnect with the world around them and can create a sense of purpose and meaning.”

She sums up, “It’s about taking positive risk, in an acute mental health setting we always need to reduce the risk of harm for people and access therapeutic activities within a therapeutic environment will help to reduce risks and support people’s recovery and safe discharge. We know that green spaces have huge therapeutic value and the pandemic has got people interested in walking for walking’s sake, so we need to keep up that momentum.”