Mental health: Nature prescriptions show benefits for hundreds of patients in Edinburgh

A trial which saw GPs in Edinburgh prescribing nature as a treatment has proved a roaring success – with 87% of patients saying they will continue to use it to help their health and wellbeing.

By Gary Flockhart
Monday, 17th January 2022, 11:54 am
The results of a trial which saw GPs at five practices in Edinburgh prescribing nature revealed that 87% of patients involved will continue to use it to help their health and wellbeing.

A new report, launched on Monday, details the findings of the Nature Prescriptions Edinburgh trial.

It reveals that nearly 350 patients were prescribed nature as part of treatment for 32 different health conditions and demonstrates why nature should be part of every healthcare professional’s toolkit in the future.

Part of a collaboration between RSPB Scotland, Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation and local GPs, the trial aimed to investigate whether the idea – which originated in Shetland in 2017 – could work in an urban environment, and to explore the potential for extending it throughout Scotland.

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It involved Leith Mount Surgery, Inchpark Surgery, St Triduana’s Medical Practice, Mill Lane Surgery and East Craigs Medical Centre.

During the pilot, 50 healthcare professionals across the five practices prescribed nature to their patients as part of their treatment.

Of the 335 recorded prescriptions, 69% were given to support mental health conditions, with anxiety and depression being the two most cited reasons.

A further 17% were for physical health – including obesity and diabetes – while 10% were for both mental and physical conditions.

Nearly three-quarters of patients who provided feedback said they had benefited from their nature prescription, with most continuing to connect with nature each week, and 87% of them said it was likely or very likely that they would continue using it.

The main reasons for liking the formal prescription were that it gave patients the permission and motivation to engage with nature, it was a drug-free safe alternative, and they thought it was working.

Spending time in natural environments and exercising outdoors can, in itself, be beneficial for wellbeing, but Nature Prescriptions involves more than simply being outdoors. It’s about connecting with nature in ways that are personal, emotional and meaningful.

Some of the activities suggested in the Edinburgh pilot included tuning in to the changing seasons, listening to nearby birdsong, getting to know a neighbourhood tree and helping local wildlife thrive.

Ian Mackenzie, green health programme manager for Edinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation, said: “In urban areas, such as Edinburgh, we often overlook the nature on our doorsteps – and this has been a great way for people to explore how nature can make us both healthier and happier.

“We are so pleased it has resulted in more people connecting with nature and experiencing the benefits that this brings.

“Improving the health and wellbeing of people and communities across Edinburgh and the Lothians is at the heart of everything we do at the Foundation.

“This is a great example of how we can support and deliver a range of projects that unlock the potential of greenspace and green health activities in improving our health and wellbeing.”

Dr Rachel Harrison, a GP at Mill Lane, said: “It is great to have something other than medication to offer patients presenting with a wide range of conditions such as diabetes, chronic pain, eating disorders, insomnia and anxiety.”

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