Frontline staff back importance of nature since pandemic outbreak

Frontline staff have described how turning to nature has helped them cope with the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therapy team from critical care backing mental health awareness week.Staff are backing Mental Health Awareness Week and its theme of being outside.

Elaine McWilliams, consultant clinical psychologist, said: “When our mood is low, we can easily feel like doing very little.

“We often wait for a time when we want to do get outside, which is counterintuitive.

“The key is just to do it, even if you don’t want to at first. Being regularly outside and taking in your surroundings can do so much to raise your mood.

“One tip is just to put it in your diary every day and tick it off when you’ve done it.

“It’s something I have personally found so helpful – being out for walks, taking photos of flowers, animals or insects. Appreciating things.

“It’s something I know has helped so many staff across the organisation especially over the last year.”

The organisation’s health and wellbeing service offers staff a range of support and advice including counselling and relaxation activities.

Special wellbeing Rainbows Rooms for staff wellbeing – funded from money raised by the late Captain Sir Tom Moore – have also been opened at both the University Hospital of North Tees and the University Hospital of Hartlepool.

The critical care team, who found themselves at the centre of the pandemic, are supporting the campaign.

Dawn Whitehouse, a specialised therapy assistant in the unit, said: “Being out in nature has been so important for me and my mental health over the last few months.

“Every day I am walking my dog, I run twice a week and I quite often cycle to work. After shifts where it was so challenging, it helped me unwind.”

Physiotherapist Laura Jorgenson worked in the respiratory ward during the pandemic and has recently moved to critical care.

She said: “Being in the middle of things during the height of the pandemic, I know how vital it was to have a way to unwind outside of this environment.

“This included getting outside to go for runs, walks and carry out outdoor gym sessions.”

Ben Priestley, therapy assistant, said: “Normally, playing football is my way of unwinding. That hasn’t been possible but I have made sure I get outside regularly to run and walk. It continues to be so important.”

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