How nature is good for mental health

There has been a lot of media coverage about mental health and how being outside and immersing yourself in our natural world can be hugely beneficial and healing.  Pete Crane suffered brain damage as a result of viral encephalitis and credits part of his incredible healing journey with the time he spent outside in the Cairngorms National Park.

Pete’s Story

I’m a husband, father of two, outdoor enthusiast, Head of Visitor Services at the CNPA and……and brain damaged. I’ll start with the first six months of my story that began at end of March 2017.

The First Six Months

Errrrr, I really don’t feel well. Errrrr, early start but must make it up to Snow Roads Scenic Route – last day of construction, can’t miss that. And then back to the office for financial year end!”

Three days later, thanks to the smartness, persistence and care of my wife Lorna, I was in an ambulance heading north to Raigmore Hospital, Inverness. And then at Raigmore within two hours of arriving I was being treated for half a dozen potential illnesses including viral encephalitis: two bits of brilliance in one day.

The next week is a blur of semi-consciousness, fantasy and nightmare. However, I do recall Dr ‘X’ infecting me with her optimism on my recovery. The following two weeks I was visited by more people than I remember knowing; all positive, all enthusiastic, all helping me more than they will ever know or understand. Then the stunning, almost literally ‘mind blowing’ news that the virus was gone and I could go home.

Home, brilliant, exciting, joy beyond; then very quickly the harsh reality of the brain damage and the long, slow, challenging recovery. Without doubt Lorna and my daughters, Rachel and Jo, suffered, supported, encouraged and on occasion just put-up with the ‘new me’ in ways I’ll never really understand or be able to appreciate enough.

Kate cares. She cares about colleagues in a way not often found in HR and she really didn’t want me back at work but I saw it about my recovery not earning a wage so we agreed to try it. Weeks five and six ‘attending work’ were unbelievably challenging; minutes to read a three sentence email and more to reply…if I could find the password to access my computer. The support of my team of nine was brilliant. It was my family who suffered, again, an exhausted me returning home from work, irrational and negatively emotional.

But with time, challenge and the amazing support of family and friends it started to slowly get better and the challenges bigger. June; a presentation to a regional conference. October; an international conference and now in November on BBC Countryfile talking about…..the Snow Roads where it all started. All far from easy but all helping.

The best belief I chose to agree with came from another sufferer who said; ‘when it’s really bad just pause and look back because today’s badness will be much better than last weeks’.

Six months on I’m still far from ‘me’ but also know how unbelievably lucky I have been. Lucky; to get outstanding treatment from NHS, to have supporting friends and colleagues, but most of all to have a family that believes they can help the ‘new me’ get closer to the ‘old me’……without necessarily fully recovering that ironic, sarcastic sense of humour of old.

What NHS says

Long-term problems can occur after encephalitis as a result of damage to the brain. These problems can have a significant impact on the life of the affected person, as well as their family, friends and carers.

Some of the most common complications include:

  • memory problems
  • personality and behavioural changes
  • speech and language problems
  • swallowing problems
  • repeated seizures (fits) – known as epilepsy
  • emotional and psychological problems, such as anxiety, depression and mood swings
  • problems with attention, concentrating, planning and problem solving
  • problems with balance, co-ordination and movement
  • persistent tiredness

Recovering from encephalitis can be a long, slow and difficult process. Many people will never make a full recovery

 

And so the Story Continues…

It’s nearly two years since I contracted Viral Encephalitis and there is no doubt that thanks to the brilliance of NHS Raigmore, Lorna and my close friends and colleagues my recovery has been excellent.  My treatment was so quick and good that I had no epilepsy and I’ve been so unbelievably lucky to only have ‘down days’ and no depression. Most who meet me would never know of my brain damage but those close see the changes; more emotional both good and bad, a sudden transition from yawn, to tired, to unconsciously asleep, and, at times, even more obsessive than the ’old me’.

Many studies show that being outside in our natural world is beneficial for our mental health.  People suffering from a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and stress are finding that spending time outside and engaging with nature has helped to relieve their symptoms – whether that’s a gentle walk, bird watching or a more vigourous activity such as cycling or hiking. I was back on my bike a week after leaving hospital and climbing mountains again three months later. There is no doubt that my recovery has been greatly enhanced by spending time in the fantastic landscapes of the Cairngorms National Park.

If my foot had been cut off in an accident everyone could see it, everyone would know I was disabled. But with brain damage and mental health challenges it’s hidden; we don’t want people to see it, to talk about it yet sometimes we need help. No easy answers. But perhaps the solution is better questions.

I’m still receiving specialist psychiatric treatment that is helping me better manage my mental health. This can only have a positive impact on those around me if I share my story.  For more information on viral encephalitis visit https://www.encephalitis.info/