Forest bathers extol benefits of ecotherapy amid mental health crisis and long waiting lists | UK News

The mental health crisis and long waiting lists for therapy has sparked a rise in people seeking alternative treatments – with some crediting “ecotherapy” with saving their lives.

One form of ecotherapy that’s becoming increasingly popular is known as forest bathing.

It’s a simple method of being calm and quiet among the trees, observing nature around you while breathing deeply, say those who support the idea.

With the NHS saying five million patients accessed mental health care between 2022 and 2023 in England – an increase of more than a million in five years – people are increasingly seeking refuge in nature to escape the stresses of modern life.

Susanne Meis – the founder of Meet in Nature and host of forest bathing sessions at Kew Gardens – told Sky News: “The first step is to come and see, hear, smell, touch and experience forest bathing for yourself.”

She added: “I have seen thousands of people during and post-COVID benefiting from forest bathing.

“Some have told me that forest bathing literally saved their life, others shared that it has transformed their relationship with nature.”

The practice inspired the winner of this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, where London designer Ula Maria won a gold medal for her Forest Bathing Garden.

Pic: PA
Ula Maria won gold at this year's Chelsea Flower Show for her Forest Bathing Garden. Pic: PA
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Ula Maria won gold at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show for her Forest Bathing Garden. Pics: PA

She described the garden as a place of “solace and reflection” for those affected by muscular dystrophy, and RHS Chair of Show Garden Judges Liz Nicholson called it “a wonderful slice of forest edge” that was “immersive, relaxing and calming”.

According to mental health charity MIND, forest bathing can help both adults and children de-stress and boost health and wellbeing in a natural way.

They add however it should be used alongside other mental health treatments.

Katie Mills, founder and director of Forest and Family, also told Sky News that despite misconceptions, forest bathing doesn’t involve simply “taking off your clothes”.

She believes the practice is growing in popularity around the world and says there are huge benefits when people connect with nature.

Trees for Anjum Peerbaco's ecotherapy piece
Trees for Anjum Peerbaco's ecotherapy piece
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Hayley Jarvis from MIND said ‘some of these projects are trying to fill a gap’ in traditional therapies

The idea behind forest bathing originates from a Japanese practice known as shinrin-yoku, which started in the 1980s.

Dr Qing Li, who founded the practice, is credited as saying: “There is no medicine you can take that has such a direct influence on your health as a walk in a beautiful woodland.”

Forest bathing consists of slow, mindful activities focusing on what you can see, smell, hear and touch.

Exercises include changing your line of sight, looking at a range of colours within nature, smelling strong-scented leaves, and experiencing the different textures.

Each forest bathing experience can be different. It can take place usually over about two-hour period with less than a mile of walking.

But it can also be practiced for as little as 10 to 15 minutes, or extended over several days or weeks.

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According to the NHS, about one in five children and young people aged eight to 25 years had a probable mental disorder in 2023. In 2017, it was one in nine.

Despite MIND supporting nature in mental health treatment, the charity’s lead for sport and physical activity Hayley Jarvis said: “Ecotherapy is not the only solution, it has to be used alongside talking therapies and medication.”

She added: “1.9 million adults are on waiting lists for mental health services on the NHS.

“Some of these projects are trying to fill a gap.”

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