Human beings are part of the eco-system. Being in direct contact with the natural world is an integral part of our normal basic behaviour. We need to pay more attention to our natural ties in order to maintain and reinvigorate our health.
Nature is many times absent in our daily lives. Richard Louv, an American journalist and author, in his publication The Last Child in the Woods coined the term Nature-Deficit Disorder through which he points at the consequences of alienating children from the natural world causing a wide range of behavioural problems. Unfortunately, it is not only children that are developing a Nature-Deficit Disorder. There is a serious risk that this can, and most probably is, infecting most of us.
Recently there is much talk going on relative to the importance of roof gardens, transforming our roofs into small gardens as a result creating small natural spots within our urban areas. This is an idea worth pursuing, but it is no substitute for the real thing: an interaction with an unspoilt countryside.
At times the clamouring for roof gardens is more the result of pangs of conscience seeking to somehow make good for the large-scale havoc on the natural environment resulting from unbridled development. It is also a call of those who feel the impact of being deprived of contacts with nature over a long time.
Our continuous contact with nature in its authentic unspoilt form helps us stay healthy. Conversely nature can help those of us who are sick, in particular the mentally sick, to regain their health, in a natural way. This is ecotherapy, a developing area of practice and study.
Birdlife Malta and the Richmond Foundation have together ventured into this area some two years ago. With a grant of €17,000 from the Malta Social Impact Awards they designed an ecotherapy programme called Blooming Minds aimed at improving the lives of persons with mental health problems. They developed an engaging and inclusive programme of outdoor sessions making use of nature as a therapeutic tool through nature art, gardening and a general appreciation of nature. This, as evidenced by the professionals guiding the programme, assisted confidence building, and the enjoyment of the calming effect of being in green spaces in the exclusive company of nature.
One of the programme managers commented thus: “Our clients have thoroughly enjoyed the ecotherapy sessions they have attended so far. They were relaxing and a really efficient way for them to get in touch with nature and wind down at the same time. It is clear that they were impacted by the environment in a positive way.”
The funds dried up and this particular ecotherapy programme was discontinued, for the time being.
Prior to this initiative by Birdlife and Richmond Foundation similar initiatives were taken by Friends of the Earth Malta at Villa Chelsea as well as by other environmental NGOs.
Ecotherapy is beneficial for everyone – but especially for those with a mental health problem or those at risk of developing one, offering focus and care that is person-centred, non-intrusive and empowering.
It is not only children that need to be saved from a nature-deficit disorder. All of us are spending less time outdoors. We need to re-establish contact with our roots, in the countryside not on our roofs!
Ecotherapy is a green tool to improve mental health. Nature offers solutions which we should tap and use for our benefit.
NGOs Birdlife and Richmond Foundation have taken a worthwhile initiative and have shown us the way forward. Due to a lack of funds this initiative is unfortunately not active anymore. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that this initiative is reactivated the soonest and to lay the foundations to transform it into a permanent activity. Everyone stands to gain.