Mental health has always affected many people, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year and 1 in 6 people report experiencing one of the more common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression every week in England according to Mind UK. Unfortunately, since the start of the pandemic, these statistics are rising. Despite how common it is, this still seems to be a topic that has a lot of stigmas attached to it especially among the shooting community. A male-dominated sport, where people feel as though they can’t open up for fear of being looked down on and the risk of losing their licenses. This is something that I would like to see change.
This year, the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May) organised by Mental Health Foundation is ‘Nature and the Environment’. Over the past year, it has been clear that a saviour for many during these difficult times has been to take a walk in the countryside on a regular basis. As a rural community we are extremely lucky to be able to experience the benefits of nature much more often than those that live in towns and cities.
Being involved in field sports can have huge benefits for both our physical and mental health. On a day when I go beating, I regularly do between 10-15,000 steps a day on a pheasant day and even more on a partridge day. The mental benefits are even greater. The body releases endorphins as you exercise which, creates a positive feeling. Whatever country pursuit it is that you choose to do in your spare time, it is probable that you are surrounded by like-minded people who share a love and passion for what you do. Many people you meet from shooting, you may not see them out of season however the friendship remains when you all come together again at the start of a new season. All this combined can provide such a boost to your mood.
Having suffered from Anxiety and Depression for a few years now, I have noticed how being out in the field has helped this. For me, there is no feeling similar to a great day full of banter on the beaters wagon, no matter what the British weather has thrown at us. Everyone still smiling despite the wind, rain and cold. It feels like a weight is lifted off of my shoulders after a day in the field and I can go home feeling much better than I did at the start of the day and can guarantee a good night’s sleep.
Having spoken to others within our community, it is clear that the benefits are recognised by many:
“I really enjoy beating for our local shoot. I find that it’s such a good way of getting away from screens, taking a break from scrolling on my phone and usually I have limited signal. It’s the perfect escape for the day and you are rewarded with fantastic views and smashing company.”
“I go deer stalking and also use our ponies in the hill to take the deer home and its quite amazing to see the way it was done years ago by using the ponies. I always stop to appreciate the views and to see how happy the ponies are doing the work they were made for. It’s amazing how getting fresh air can make such a difference to your mental health, so I always try get plenty each day whether it be walking the dogs or just grooming the ponies. When I’m stuck inside I find myself on social media too much and it can be really draining”
“Beating is my happy place! My first proper season was when my other half was away working harvest in Australia, so it kept me busy. I love being amongst nature, away from crazy life and just spending time with my dogs and likeminded people, often getting covered in mud and being care free.”
“There’s nothing quite like a day in the field to clear your head. A day shooting is by far my happiest place- theres nothing like having my side by side in my hand and my black Labrador by my side. It’s those moments when nothing else in the world matters that I can really escape my day-to-day stresses and just enjoy life for what it is!”
“I love going out beating as you get to chat to lots of different people of all ages who might not see anyone else in the week. Sometimes I arrive to the day stressed and tired from work but leave the day so much happier after a day walking and working my dog.”
So, as we enter into Mental Health Awareness Week, I encourage you to reach out to friends, old and new, to see how they are. You never know, this may make the difference. Get out and enjoy nature, take in the sights and sounds. Whether it’s with friends, family, or your favourite four-legged friends. And don’t be afraid to ask for help if needed. It’s not “weak”, as it is often perceived, it is one of the strongest things you can do. I’m sure people will make time for you and if you honestly have no one to turn to The Country GIrls UK community is here to help!
Where to access help:
Samaritans 116 123 https://www.samaritans.org/
Mental Health Foundation https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/
Written by Julia Newman