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A brilliant article from psychiatrist Dr Max, the Mind Doctor, in one of the major tabloids today, discussing the pilot scheme in Greater Manchester of being outdoors and in the natural environment as one of the prescriptions for depression.  

It is part of ‘social prescribing’ which is the new buzzword in medicine and means looking at the patient holistically and not just medically.  

It is encouraging Doctors to not just look at depression biologically and psychologically, but to realise that with each individual there are social factors that contribute to mental illness. 

The article mentions the conscientious studies conducted by Dr Sam Everington in the 1980’s whilst working in a deprived area of East London observing how many  patients were suffering with depression.  

Whilst undergoing his training Everington had been taught the medical model of depression was a chemical imbalance of the brain and the treatment used was medicative which would help rebalance the brain chemistry.

However, his personal observation was that, despite his patients being prescribed antidepressants, they did not appear to be getting any better.  

His thoughts moved toward it not just being a biological problem but it was also a social problem; that it wasn’t just about medication, it was about people feeling disconnected and unsupported socially. They were feeling isolated, which is of course what depression does.  

He set about trying to help people reconnecting with others by prescribing ‘gardening’ to his depressed patients.

Over a period of the next few months, they worked on some derelict land, weeding, tending, and planting flowers.  It got the patients talking to one another, listening to comments from passersby, and sharing their common interests with one another.  

They began to give support, understanding and care to each other. They were no longer feeling alone and isolated in their illness; they were becoming a community.

I think this study/work done by Dr Sam Everington is amazing; it looks carefully at the social disconnection a person feels when they become unwell, and it embraces the emotional pain that people feel when suffering with depression.  

It recognises that being solely reliant on medication being prescribed for treatment alone is limiting.  It is a recognition that the medicative and therapeutic practices should go hand in hand. 

It is refreshing to read that medics are learning to be open to an alternative approach to mental health, recognising that it is a complex mix of biological, social and psychological factors that should be tackled on all fronts.  

It’s not just about sending people out with a spade and a pack of seeds, but they also need to be carefully managed, particularly in the early days when the depression hangs darkly over them, enabling them to feel personally supported.

It is my role as a therapeutic counsellor to help people through times of depression, to listen, to reflect and together find a way of thinking differently.

Please contact me if you feel I could help.

Ruth Belfield

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