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Now a Green Agenda for Mental Health

, ecotherapy is low-cost, has no negative side effects and is available on most people's doorsteps.

There is often little or no access to green space in many prisons, despite evidence that even a view of trees can improve prisoners' health and behaviour. A study of prisoners in Michigan found that those who had cells overlooking farmland and trees had 24 per cent fewer sick visits than those in cells facing the prison yard.

Similarly, a 10-year comparative study of post-operative patients in Pennsylvania showed that hospital stays for patients with tree views was significantly shorter, they required fewer painkillers, used less medication, and nursing staff reported fewer negative evaluation comments in the medical records.

In a recent Mind survey, 33 per cent of psychiatric inpatients said they did not have access to an adequate garden or green exercise. In one worrying case, the inpatient said that trips to the garden were often withheld as a punishment.

Mind is now calling for access to green space and exercise to be a core issue for the Healthcare Commission, Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Prisons Inspectorate.

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 antidepressants is extremely limited. We're not saying that ecotherapy can replace drugs but that the debate needs to be broadened."

"Hundreds of people have benefited from the green projects run by our local Mind associations but if prescribing ecotherapy was part of mainstream practice it could potentially help the millions of people across the country who are affected by mental distress."

Mind's recommendations include:

* Ecotherapy should be recognised as a clinically-valid treatment for mental
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