It has been Mental Health Awareness week all week and we only just noticed.
We get messages every week from people who say that the park is a special place for them. They write about space to think, head-space, peace of mind; some say they wouldn’t be able to cope without their daily walk in the park.
It is stunningly beautiful at the moment. It has burst into bloom and the fields are awash with colour: yellow buttercups and red sorrel against a background of all the subtleties of the flowering grasses.
There is growing evidence to suggest that natural environments like the park have enormous mental health benefits. Green spaces, open spaces close to nature, have been associated with lower levels of stress, depression and anxiety, and improved cognitive function.
For depression, the NHS recommends exercise, social interaction and a natural environment. A walk in the park with a friend covers all of that. Take the friend’s dog for added benefit; we all know that dogs lower our stress levels.
Psychologists are coming to believe that the countryside has real restorative properties; they have calculated that a single exposure to nature, a walk in the park on a beautiful morning for instance, has benefits that can last for seven hours. There are plenty of park users who could have told them that without any calculations at all.
Natural environment, reserved habitat, where people are free to walk is becoming more and more difficult to find. Southwick Country Park is a rare and important resource both as a nature reserve and as a place where people can stroll, run, picnic or just sit and look.
Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May 2019) is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation.