Can nature help with our mental health?

Can nature help with our mental health? Youth Council member, Kirstie, shares her story.

I am a young person and have struggled with my mental health since being a child - I mostly struggle with depression and anxiety. I have lived in a seaside town, a rural city and one of the biggest cities in the UK. Since living in three drastically different areas, I have noticed how much my mental health has changed depending on how much time I can spend in nature.

Kirstie Andrews - Youth Council member 2021

Kirstie Andrews - Youth Council member 2021

However, I do struggle going out, and it often makes me very anxious. Although I love going out and being around nature, sometimes it takes a lot for me to actually get out of the door, especially by myself and especially without a purpose. That is why I gave myself a purpose, to take photos and videos of the wildlife I enjoyed seeing.

When I lived in Carlisle, I found it much easier to go out and explore, there were natural green spaces and wildlife everywhere. My walk to university meant walking through a park that had cows in - some days, I had to stand on the path waiting for a cow to move before I could get past - it was fantastic. For the first time, I felt less anxious about going outside by myself. I suddenly loved it, camera in hand, following rivers, exploring forests and relaxing in parks. I became a much more confident person and a large part of that was because I loved living somewhere surrounded by nature. Nature encouraged me to go out more.

Blue tits on bird feeder by Kirstie Andrews

Blue tits on bird feeder by Kirstie Andrews

I now live in Manchester. I moved right into the city centre and suddenly realised how much I missed being surrounded by nature. I started to get very depressed again and wanted to leave my apartment less and less. I hated how empty and lifeless the city felt, even with people rushing everywhere, and I felt stuck in a concrete jungle. I didn’t realise how big of an impact living in the city, and feeling disconnected from nature, would have on my mental health. I stopped taking photos because I didn’t think there was any more wildlife for me to photograph.

That is until, one morning, when looking out of my bedroom window, I noticed that two magpies lived in the abandoned building across the road and they cheered me up. I would watch them and every day they brought a small piece of happiness to me. This inspired me to find what little pockets of nature I could, if only to improve my mental health again.

I started to look for wildlife anywhere I could. I found ducks in fountains, bats by corporate buildings and a heron in a river running through the city. I found a kingfisher, a rat and starlings - wildlife really was everywhere, even here. So, on days that I was struggling, I would try and drag myself out of the house to see what I could find. Wildlife was making its home in the city centre and it made me realise, so could I.

Wildlife was making its home in the city centre and it made me realise, so could I.
Green wall at Manchester tram stop by Kirstie Andrews

Green wall at Manchester tram stop by Kirstie Andrews

Some days are really hard though. No matter how happy nature makes me, some days I just can’t bring myself to go outside. Yet still, the natural world has carried on helping me. Sitting and looking out of the window, watching trees swaying in the wind, it made me feel less anxious. Seeing the clouds passing by or hearing the birds chirping, even inside, nature is still there to cheer me up.

All of this exploration was carried out without access to my own car, and most without the use of public transport. While not everyone lives in areas that are typically considered wildlife friendly, there is always something there to be discovered. A part of the fun is uncovering it, and finding out how much it helps your mental wellbeing.