“I can get to a happy place by visiting nature”: The benefits of implementing nature walking groups within mental health services
Background: There is an urgent need to seek innovative and alternative interventions that can be used alongside traditional mental health treatments. Despite a variety of benefits, nature has been underutilised in supporting individuals with mental health conditions. This study explored the experiences of ten people attending a mental health rehabilitation service who participated in a pilot Nature Walking Group implemented within community mental health services in NSW Australia. Methods: Two ten-week Nature Walking Groups were implemented. Data include ethnographic observations of the walks, focus group and interviews with the participants. The research team used an individual and collective thematic analysis of the social practices described in the data. Results: Ten people aged between 37 and 66 years participated in the walking groups (four in group 1 and six in group 2). Three major themes were identified in the data and participants’ words were used to name each theme. Theme 1 - ``I can get to a happy place by visiting nature'' refers to participants’ accounts of the activity's impact on their mental health. Theme 2 - ``Knowing that you are not alone'' incorporates experiences of social connection and participant interactions. Theme 3 - ``It was really rewarding and helpful'' describes participants’ satisfaction with how the groups were organised and run and the elements they enjoyed the most. Conclusions: All participants experienced benefits from participating in the groups including feeling calmer, having improved mood and feeling less alone with their mental health problems. Joining the NWG as part of their treatment was viewed as a legitimate intervention for mental health services to implement. Nature walking groups for people with mental health conditions have huge potential as a non-clinical intervention. However, more work on how they can be implemented and sustained is required.
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Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District