Mental distress and ecological praxis

Authors: Camilla Royle*, London School of Economics
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Environment, Geography and Urban Health
Keywords: ecology, praxis, gardens, mental health, ecotherapy, nature
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 43
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Time spent in green spaces is widely believed to be beneficial for mental health. The UK charity Mind encourages visitors to its website to take up gardening or volunteer in a local park. In 2016, the Green Care Coalition was established with the support of the UK government to provide ecotherapy as a cost-effective mental health intervention. Interest in this has only increased with the Covid19 pandemic and lockdown measures. There has been much public discussion of the role of spaces such as gardens in relieving anxiety and in differences in access to green spaces. Books on nature and mental health such as Sue Stuart-Smith’s The Well Gardened Mind (2020) and Emma Mitchell’s The Wild Remedy (2018) have become bestsellers. While any improvement to the lives of people experiencing mental distress is welcome, the use of nature as therapy poses interesting theoretical questions and avenues for sympathetic critique. These questions include those related to the types of “nature” that are promoted (or otherwise) in discourses of ecotherapy and the kind of ecological subjects that its advocates exhort us to become. This paper will point to some limitations of a project of rediscovering nature in the context of global environmental disasters. It will argue that ecotherapy projects cannot simply be dismissed as yet another example of the neoliberalisation of nature, but neither can they be uncritically adopted as models of human liberation.

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