Forest sessions help combat depression
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
ADULTS with mental health issues are finding solace in the natural beauty of a dale wood.
People with problems ranging from anxiety and depression to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicidal thoughts say the activities at Deepdale Wood, Startforth, are helping them cope.
Provided by Bright Woods Forest School, the sessions include whittling, foraging, mindfulness walks, campfire cooking and art and craft.
Honia Devlin,of Bright Woods, said about 15 people regularly attend the sessions and they are open to anyone struggling with anxiety or depression. One of the regulars is former high security prison officer Derek Franklin who had his neck broken during an assault after 20 years of service. He now suffers from PTSD.
He said: “The things I have seen and done over the 20 years have come back to haunt me. Depression comes in waves. Even a smell or a sound can take me back to a situation ten or 15 years ago.
“In the beginning I was nervous [coming here] but as you get to know people you start to look forward to it. I really enjoy it. When you are here you are grounded to the forest. It feels like there is a weight lifted.”
The 49-year-old added that being with others and realising he is not alone had also been of comfort.
Talking to others he realised “there is light at the end of the tunnel”, he said.
The mindfulness walks were provided by counsellor Alex MacLean during the early sessions and she returned to Deepdale Woods last week to monitor the impact they have had.
On mindfulness, Mr Franklin said: “I have started doing it. I do find when I am walking the dog, instead of marching through the woods, you take a step back and let the dog wander and you just stop and think about where you are and the sounds around you.
“It takes your mind away from where you were.
“It is like your mind has been reset. It is hard to describe the help it gives you. It is a massive help.”
Bernie Penman, whose mother took her own life and who suffers from his own thoughts of suicide, said: “It is when you are on your own that it is worst, but being here there are people in far worse situations than me. It puts things into perspective.”
A woman who wanted to be known simply as “D” began to suffer from anxiety after losing her job of 19 years last August. She said: “This is the one good thing in my life. It is sacrosanct and I wish it was all the time. Meeting people who have issues as well makes you realise you are not along. Even being out last week when it was freezing, we put up the roof and huddled around the fire, talking.
“[After a session] I usually go home and sleep.
“When you have relaxed and you have been struggling with sleeping, it really helps.”
“D”, who worked with children throughout her career, hopes to return to Bright Woods Forest School as a volunteer when the sessions are finished.
The group have seven more sessions before the series comes to an end, but it is hoped that the studies of the group done by Ms MacLean will help secure more funding so the services can be extended to include more people in the future.