Mental Health Awareness Week – what nature means to library staff

From 10th to 16th May 2021 is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year the Mental Health Foundation has chosen nature as the theme.

Check out the hashtag #connectwithnature on social media. We will be sharing posts around Mental Health Awareness Week all week on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

In this blogpost, your library team highlights in sentences and images what nature means to them and their mental wellbeing.

Over the last year, many of us have become more aware of our relationship with nature, be that our balcony, garden, local park, forest, the beach or mountains. More than an appreciation of the small things in life, the last year has shown that we are inextricably part of nature and that nature plays a central role in our emotional and physical wellbeing. It has also become clear that access to and time in nature is often still for the privileged few, despite the fact that we all benefit enormously. Nature is not a luxury but must be available to all of us. Perhaps our appreciation for the natural world over the last year in combination with our increasing and continued damage to our planet has given us food for thought. In this sense, access to nature for mental wellbeing is a social justice and environmental issue.

With this blogpost, we want to raise awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing and the role that nature can play in that. We want to normalise conversations around how we are doing and that at times, we might not be doing so well emotionally or mentally.

What does nature mean to us and our mental wellbeing?

Sue – Associate Director of Information Services (Library & Learning Services)

Escape from the rat race
Space to think
Inspiring awe
A step away from the mundane
Tiny miracles
Expanding our horizons

Rocks on the beach in Hastings
at the beach in Hastings

Karen – NHS and Liaison Manager

Accessing local green spaces has helped me and my children digitally detox during intensive times of home-learning and home-working this past year

Emily (Information Assistant)

During the first lock down, when you were only allowed an hour outside a day, I tried to ensure I took my kids out for some sort of walk every day to get a bit of exercise and fresh air.  Being outside helped us to stay feeling connected to the world and I think feel somehow reassured that the sun still came out, the rain still fell, the trees still stood, and the flowers grew. It was a sense of some normality in the chaos that nature still carried on. It made us appreciate every little bit of green space nearby.  We always returned from outside feeling more hopeful.

Anna – Liaison Librarian (FHSCE)

Conversations about nature tend to cheer people up, and are a vehicle for a non-stressful chat with colleagues.

Stephen – Liaison Support Librarian (NHS)

Regarding the question of nature, I suppose the first impulse is to think of the outdoors in some of its grander forms (beaches, mountains, forests, etc.) before then considering those havens of nature which may be nearby to us (parks, commons, woods) which, given that ‘more than one in five households in London has no access to a private or shared garden‘, offer invaluable resources in support of health and wellbeing. 

Even more locally than these, however, is the nature that can (should?) be brought into the home (and work) environment. For the good that plants can do in cleaning indoor air; for the connection that tending plants offers to a larger living world; and for the aesthetic contribution that plants can make to any indoor space, my shout out goes to the humble (or showy) houseplant.

Jennifer – Research Publications Librarian

White blossom; blue sky

Delicate petals fall and

Again, I will sigh.

Photo of tree blossoms
Blossom

Louise – Helpdesk supervisor

I like to be out in nature – in the outside, wandering in the woods – always nicer in the sunshine of course but I love lifting my face to the wind in early Autumn.

The main thing I think is how nature affects your senses;

Smell –  fresh rain – especially in the summer, flowers, freshly cut grass, even those ‘farmyard’ smells just make you think of nature in general.

Sight – new blossom on trees, the changing colours of leaves in the Autumn, freshly laid snow in Winter. Seeing newborns – ducklings/Goslings growing, tadpoles changing into frogs.

Touch – feeling grasses, petals even different textured tree trunks, pebbles, stones, sand beneath your bare feet.

Hearing – the most obvious is the bird call of course. Although noting beats the sea crashing on the shore if you are by the coast, or even the gentler shushing of waves.

Ros – User Experience & Operations Manager

Two children with their backs turned away from the camera, running along a forest path with bluebells on either side.

Dan – Information Assistant

It’s always good to get out of the house whether its just to the park over the road or a car trip to the beach. Its about being out in the fresh air and looking at the trees and green or being by the Sea. I always feel better after I’ve been outside even if its just for an hour or two. It certainly improves my day. The dog loves it too!

Juulia – Archivist

Here is a composite of photos I’ve taken across the year of the trees in a nearby woods. Having access to a green space has definitely been a lifeline, and doing more or less the same walk every day has made me focus on the seasonal changes, and on all the small details you might otherwise miss. And it has made me really appreciate how you can find beauty maybe in some unexpected places – my local cemetery is absolutely brimming with nature & life!

Composite of photos of trees across the seasons

James – Liaison Support Librarian (FHSCE)

When I’m outside in nature my mind becomes quiet and I have the opportunity to become aware of something bigger than myself. When I’m not so focused on me and my story, I can really begin to relax and start to let go of built-up tensions.

Georgie – Information Assistant

I’ve become a member of Kew Gardens in the last year and it’s been wonderful to be able to spend time in such a beautiful place. I had a lovely, quiet, peaceful walk there on Sunday morning.

Picture of bluebells and trees in the sunshine at Kew Gardens.
At Kew Gardens

Alex – Project Archivist

I think to me, nature reminds me that I am part of something bigger, something beautiful. It makes me feel extremely lucky and full of joy but as I have gotten older that joy tends to be tinged with a bit of sadness and frustration at how often we mistreat it and take it for granted. Over the last year I have loved seeing people, myself included, reconnect with nature and take pleasure in simply being outside, but I have also seen how much nature has become a privilege that not everyone has equal access to and that it is very easy to be cut off from in modern cities. Being surrounded by nature, I would say, is extremely good for my mental wellbeing, but it is not always an entirely positive experience and sometimes I do leave it feeling slightly weighed down by my responsibility to do more to protect what I have seen.

Anne – Liaison Support Librarian (IMBE)

A chance to connect with something beyond myself
Miracles of colours, textures, sounds
The abundance of life away from a screen
Sharing the joy of nature with others
A spiritual practice and gratitude
Watching seedlings grow