Finding my salvation outdoors

Ashley Beolens By Ashley Beolens

GetOutside Champion Ashley Beolens looks back on his journey with severe depression and how he realised that reconnecting with nature could help with his recovery.

Views over Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chilterns

Views over Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chilterns

Around about a decade ago I suffered through a period of severe depression. Dark thoughts and suicidal feelings often swamped my being. I would lay in bed for days at a time, unable to face even my family, let alone the rest of the world. I put my partner through hell, self-medicated with alcohol, and was generally not a person that people wanted to be around.

I got through that period thanks in no small part to my amazing partner who literally saved my life. She helped me get the treatments I needed; and the medication prescribed by my GP saw me through till my mental health improved.

Years later, when I was in a better place mentally I looked back at the time I was at my lowest. A period of self-reflection, brought on by the realisation of what I put Zoe through. And one thing became clear. At the same time I was in this dark depression, and in the periods before.

I had lost my connection with something, that I had cherished all my life. I was no longer getting outside into nature.

For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed time outside. Nature, and birds in particular, have had me fascinated since I was a small child. I spent many years watching and photographing anything from common garden birds to great rarities in far flung corners of the UK. But changes in my family unit; stress at work and home; and far too much time spent in the pub; had all affected this outdoors time.

I was no longer connecting with nature the way I once had. I was no longer travelling all over the UK to see the amazing avifauna these isles hold. I wasn’t even walking the local lakes or rivers. And this distance from nature and the outdoors had a detrimental effect on my mental health.

Reconnecting with nature

Connecting With Nature – Kestrel surveys the Isle of Sheppey

Connecting With Nature – Kestrel surveys the Isle of Sheppey

As time has passed I have reached out to friends, family, and other social media acquaintances, who have suffered with their own mental health demons. And it would appear that I am not alone in finding similar disconnects have had detrimental effects on mental health. In fact many of us have found time outdoors helps us to fight those mental pains.

Fast forward to me now

I still have moments where the dark storm clouds of depression appear on the horizon. But I have learnt that there is a way for me to avoid the rain – metaphorically.

When those feelings begin to appear, I KNOW that I NEED to get outside; feel the wind on my face, the sun on my back or the rain in my hair. A few hours wandering local footpaths, or getting lost in the woods. A leisurely day spent watching the wildlife, or even just a walk with my dog, help me to reignite my passions in life.

Help me see that the positives outweigh the negatives. They reinvigorate my soul. Fight off the black dog, and reset my mental health to a position that I can once again see the woods for the trees.

Grey Heron on the Floodplain Forest

Grey Heron on the Floodplain Forest

It may not be for everyone, but if you are finding yourself struggling (as well as seeking professional help) why not grab an OS map, and head outdoors? The fresh air and exercise certainly won’t hurt you.

Mental Health Foundation poster

Ashley Beolens By Ashley Beolens


Ashley is a walker, photographer, naturalist & Dad in no specific order.

Find out more about Ashley on Twitter.