Mental Health and Nature

Thinking about mental (ill)health is a key priority for the IGA and deeply embedded into our ethos for world building through school gardens. As individuals and collaborative scholars we have considered the differing ways our connection and disseverment from “nature” has impacted upon mental health on a collective, societal, and personal scale. Our commitment to understanding the lived experiences of mental (ill)health has political intent: part of a continued fight for social justice. Yet, it is also simply part of who we are. Our worlds and selves enmeshed in our own relationships with mental health and the natural environments around us.     

This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week (Mental Health Awareness Week 2021), an annual campaign to promote conversation and recognition of mental health. This year the theme is Nature and the Environment, with Mark Rowland, the Chief Director of the Mental Health Foundation, stating that “nature is our great untapped resource for a mentally healthy future”. The main aims for the week are to inspire people to connect with nature and to think about the benefits it can have for mental health. But also to encourage governments and decision makers at a range of levels to consider access to nature as a mental health and social justice issue, as much as an environmental one. Rowland advocates that “there could not be a more important time to understand the links between nature and mental health”, a message that powerfully chimes with our own ambitions.

As the IGA enters into its third year of existence this summer we feel more passionate than ever about developing our worldly work into mental (ill)health and gardens. Still deeply inspired by our visit to Arizona and the incredible work undertaken by the Community & School Garden Programme in Tucson, we continue to work in collaboration with young people and their school communities on issues of climate change and ecological justice. Over the past year we have expanded the reach of places and partners that with work with, sharing ideas and growing worlds in a variety of different spaces. We have been humbled and inspired by the resilience of the communities that work alongside us, many of whom have faced enormous hardship worsened by the recent pandemic. We are excited to share this work in the future on this site and to develop new relationships with schools and communities who share our passion for gardens.

One thing that we have certainly learned in our work so far is that the relationships between mental (ill)health and “nature” are not easy to understand and untangle. Yet they are central to our survival. In attempting to grow new worlds we have witnessed the lasting psychological effects of disconnection and alienation from the land and the earth. Yet we have also observed and felt the strength of the hopeful forces of re-connection and repair that garden work can do. Whilst there are no easy answers for challenging the current global mental health crisis we remain convinced of the role that school gardens can play in generating new, more hopeful and just futures. And so, we will continue to build them.