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The healing benefits of being surrounded by nature are well documented and for most of us, being able to access it by walking the dog in the park or opening our back door to a green space can instantly reduce stress and anxiety.



Even the thought of it is enough.  There has been a study which showed a group of people looking at pictures of the great outdoors before carrying out a task under time pressure, performed much better than those who had been shown an image of an urban scene.



The beneficial effect of being in nature on the emotional state of the average stressed or anxious person is powerful and this can also be harnessed for those in more severe mental distress but the key is creating a holistic physical environment to bring about recovery.



For those with poor mental health connecting with nature is not as simple as merely thinking about it especially if even the thought of going outside is a barrier in itself.  In many cases, it is far better to bring nature to the sufferer by incorporating the elements of the outdoors within the therapeutic setting.



For example, by building a treatment centre in a rural location. A facility in a calm and quiet area with access to open spaces, water and trees is an extension of a more instinctive range of therapies which together serve as tools to aid healing.  In Japan they recommend ‘forest bathing’ where you spend time immersed in nature.  The total sensory experience provided by the surroundings is proven to decrease stress hormones and activate the immune system to fight off illness.



Experts believe that getting back to nature has never been more pressing because as the modern world takes us further away from it, a significant connection has been broken which serves as a buffer for health. 



The ability to turn off the negative physiological processes and stimulate the positive is extremely important in the treatment of mental illness and ultimately the true value of being in nature is the ability to recall the experience through mindfulness as a top up for the soul in the post recovery period.



This week, David Cameron has put mental health at the top of the political agenda, following a ‘damning’ report by an NHS England Taskforce that found around 25% of the population will suffer mental health issues at some time in their lives and yet 75% of people with mental health problems received absolutely no support.  The report suggested this shameful shortfall of care leads to "thousands of tragic and unnecessary deaths"
The Prime Minister called for the nation to focus on mental health and committed an extra £1bm spend a year by 2020, which he says will help treat a million people a year.  
However, there is no extra money over and above the £8.4bn already promised to the health service, so is this announcement just ‘spin’ or will things really change?
One thing is for sure, the report and the storm of news around it will have raised awareness of the problem with mental health care. Namely it is, and long has been, the poor relation to physical health care, as David Cameron admitted.
Currently, even those who do receive treatment are left without sufficient support after hospital discharge. Hospitals need the beds, so patients are discharged into the community, then families can’t cope, resulting in patient relapse and readmission – and so the cycle goes on.
That’s why Aspire established first Chilwell House in Ilkeston as a treatment, recovery and rehabilitation centre, followed by Riverside Gardens in Sandiacre to provide supported living and skills enablement for mental health sufferers in Derbyshire.
These purpose designed environments provide holistic support and, where required, therapy aimed at full recovery and rehabilitation back into the community and back into work.
Some people may point at the cost to the NHS of such care, and yet, the cost implications of not providing support are much high – never mind the cost in terms of ruined human lives.
Where support is not provided post hospital discharge, patients almost invariably relapse and require further care in hospital, which incurs more cost. Or where they remain at home without support, often there are issues around neglect or abuse, at which point social services becomes involved – more cost.
Those with more serious problems can end up on the streets, worsening their condition and increasing their chances of being drawn into crime. Clearly, prison is not the right place for those with mental health issues and – guess what – it’s a high cost on the public purse.
Our aim is to break the downward spiral – and to save the government money. A commitment to spend more on treatment is very welcome, but a focus on longer term support and rehabilitation is crucial too.
The government spend on mental health is currently £9.2bn a year. The cost to the economy is estimated to be £105bn. You do the math.
For many people, Christmas is a joyous time. But for those suffering from depression, the festive season can be yet another challenge. So, here are some tips on how to stay positive and beat depression over the Christmas break.
Studies show that having a support system is one of the most powerful ways to combat depression. So, if possible, don’t be alone, surround yourself with loved ones. If you’re depressed, your instinct may be to hide, but research shows that being with family and friends means the likelihood of depression is lower.
For those away from loved ones over Christmas, volunteering is a great way to feel good about yourself while helping others. When we focus on helping people in need we are less likely to think about our own problems. Volunteering locally gets you out, meeting different people and will also make you feel more involved with the community.
Manage your expectations. Despite what we see on the TV or in the movies, the perfect Christmas simply doesn’t exist. Don’t ‘beat yourself up’ over mistakes or oversights and remember that it’s OK not to feel festive all the time! Set realistic expectations and treat yourself to a stress-free Christmas
Get active during this holiday break! Exercise is known to have a positive effect on people with depression. Being physically active can help improve your mood by releasing endorphins into your body. What’s more, exercising outdoors can increase the happy feelings while supplying your daily dose of vitamin D. A great way to motivate yourself is by signing up for an event, such as a charity run. This gives you something to train for and encourages commitment to regular exercise.
If none of this helps and you’re feeling more than the typical “Christmas stress” or are having suicidal thoughts, it is important to seek help immediately. Samaritans volunteers will be available 24/7 across the UK this Christmas. Call for free on 116 123, or visit
World Mental Health Day was created by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to raise public awareness of mental health issues.
It's thought that around 154 million people around the world suffer from depression, so it's likely that you or someone you know will be affected by mental illness during your lifetime.
World Mental Health Day aims to get us all talking openly about mental illnesses and the treatment and preventions that are available to us all.
The day will be organised with the help of the World Federation for Mental Health which was founded in 1948 to prevent emotional and mental health disorders and help those who do suffer from them.
This year the theme is "Mental health and older adults" and you can show your support by making a donation at the World Federation for Mental Health website, or by joining in with one of the events organised for the day.
Events include community workshops with talks from professionals to give you any advice you might need.  
To find out more and to get involved, visit the World Mental Health Day official website and don't be afraid to talk about your problems this World Mental Health Day.
Time to Chance logoAccording to a Time to Change campaign supported by British celebrity and mental wellness champion Stephen Fry, it looks like a stock image of a person with their head in their hands – something the charity hopes to change.

Anybody who has experience with mental health issues can tell you why these images are harmful. It is the relationship between ‘headclutcher’ images and mental illness that facilitates the silence of so many, reducing a vast, complex range of experiences to one simple ‘correct’, stereotyped, response.

Sadly, it is all too hard for many individuals living with mental health conditions to express their inner struggles in such an open way. Fear of being stigmatized, or labelled, means that the sunniest person you know, could also be the most at risk person in your life too.

In response to the ubiquitous ‘head-in-hands’ image, Time To Change is not only compiling an image bank of more representative photos (free to download here), they are also asking for personal images where the subject is smiling, but felt they were falling apart inside. The aim is to open people’s eyes to the subtleties and complications of living with mental illness, and to dispel the myth that every issue amounts to the same emotional response.

Get the Picture is about more than using more accurate imagery, it’s about educating the public in hopes that not only will people suffering feel more able to ask for help, but so their loved ones feel more able to ask if they need it – even if they haven’t got their head in their hands.
See some of the pictures alongside their accompanying stories here.