Patients who are on the waiting list for months for mental health treatment benefit from low-threshold activities in nature. By gardening, walking or working in nature reserves, complaints can be prevented from worsening during the waiting list period. That is why several organizations have joined forces and set up ‘The Green Perspective: from waiting list to green action’.
More than four in ten Dutch people will experience psychological problems in their lives. According to RIVM, expenditure on mental health care will have increased fivefold by 2060. All signals that indicate that something needs to change. Currently, about 80,000 people in The Netherlands are waiting for a registration interview or treatment in mental health care. More than half of them have to wait longer than the agreed norm of 14 weeks.
Nature as a healing environment
To prevent the situation of people with mental problems from deteriorating further during the waiting period, nature can be used as a healing and helping environment. The “Groene GGZ Partnership” (Green Mental Health Partnership) consisting of mental health institutions (GGZ), IVN Nature Education, Nature For Health (NFH), the Outdoor Psychologists, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and health insurer CZ, is therefore setting up initiatives to bring people into contact with green.
20 minutes a day
Nature has a proven positive effect on people’s mental state, even if it’s just 20 minutes a day. ‘People who have more contact with nature feel better,’ says Jolanda Maas, VU research coordinator “Groene GGZ”. ‘Guidance and treatment in nature show good results. There is a lot of health gain to be made here, which is why it is important that more efforts are made in this area, especially for people on waiting lists.’
Participating mental health care institutions will integrate nature more into their treatment offerings in the coming years. For people on the waiting list, think of green neighborhood projects, such as helping in a community vegetable garden, caring for animals or participating in walking groups guided by other trained staff. Helping to improve biodiversity in nature reserves is also an option.
In order to achieve good results for people on waiting lists, the Green GGZ Partnership makes agreements with, among others, organizations that manage nature reserves, municipalities, interested green care providers and coaches and, where possible, the business community.
‘The knife cuts both ways,’ says Rob Wolters, executive director of Nature For Health on behalf of the IVN/NFH Green Mental Health core team. “With the Green Perspective, we give patients on the waiting list some breathing space and we create more awareness among patients and mental health care employees for the importance of nature. In addition, doing something good for nature makes you feel good. And that is something that everyone, and certainly people on waiting lists, can use.”
The Green Perspective can now count on a lot of support. The green care providers and coaches, united in the Dutch Association for Nature Coaches (NVNC) and the Green Care Community of Practice, have also supported the Green Perspective.
Call to The Dutch Minister of Long-Term Care
“This is really an important step that mental health care in The Netherlands needs,” said Joep Verbugt, former president of the board of GGz Eindhoven and now ambassador for “Groene GGZ”. ‘Ultimately, the use of green will help many people and substantially decrease health costs. So I expect that the “Groene GGZ” will appeal to Minister Conny Helder of Long-Term Care with the waiting list initiative and that there will also be financial support from the central government.’
Photo: IVN Nature Education