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Going green could beat the blues: British experts

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May 14, 2007

A walk in the country is an effective alternative to chemical anti-depression treatment, a leading mental health charity said Monday, calling on British doctors to prescribe outdoor activities.

The Mind charity said so-called "ecotherapy" could help millions of people with mental health problems after two studies it commissioned suggested it could have significant benefits for sufferers in most cases.

Prescription of care farms as a treatment has been highly successful on mainland Europe, but Britain has failed to follow the example, it added as it launched a report "Ecotherapy: the green agenda for mental health."

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said: "Mind sees ecotherapy as an important part of the future for mental health.

"It's a credible, clinically-valid treatment option and needs to be prescribed by GPs, especially when for many people access to treatments other than anti-depressants is extremely limited."

Researchers from the University of Essex, eastern England, studied the effect of a 30-minute walk in a country park compared with one in an indoor shopping centre on a small sample of 20 people with mental health problems

It found that 71 percent reported decreased levels of depression and anxiety after the outdoor walk while 90 percent said their self-esteem increased.

This compared with 22 percent who said their stress levels increased, 50 percent who felt more tense and 44 percent whose self-esteem plummeted while indoors.

A second study of 108 people with mental health problems suggested nearly all (94 percent) found "green exercise" boosted their state of mind.

Mind said prescriptions of anti-depressants were at an all-time high, with more than 31 million written last year -- a six percent increase from the previous 12 months -- because doctors had no alternatives.

In particular, prescriptions of drugs such as Prozac have risen by 10 percent. Cheap ecotherapies could cut costs as they were readily available and had no negative side effects.

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