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World Mental Health Day 2019

10 Oct 2019

Guest blog by Joe Harkness

The importance of mental health and wellbeing is a very prominent topic of conversation in today’s social landscape and, as it is a subject that is close to Pensthorpe owner, Deb Jordan’s heart, here at Pensthorpe we are striving to help spread the word about how beneficial it is for our mental health and wellbeing to get outdoors and enjoy the nature and wildlife that surrounds us.

To mark World Mental Health Day we invited a friend of ours, Joe Harkness, to write a blog about his own experiences. Some of you may have seen Joe on Winterwatch, back in January, with Chris Packham talking about his book “Bird Therapy”. Joe is also a familiar face at the British Birdwatching Fair and was a guest speaker at our own Pensthorpe Bird & Wildlife Fair this year. Here’s Joe’s story…

“For such a long time, I avoided telling anyone about it. If I spoke about it, it would become more tangible and so I let it simmer and bubble inside my mind. No one wanted to hear about how I’d become obsessed with taking my own life. No one wanted to hear about the plans I’d made – no one wanted to listen. Actually, looking back now, they probably would’ve done.

Today is World Mental Health Day and the theme is suicide prevention. In 2018, there were 6,859 suicides in the UK and ROI. In 2013 I was stopped from taking my own life and I’m forever thankful that someone had an inkling of what I was planning to do. I still avoided help though and it took a complete breakdown for me to finally start rebuilding my life, my personality – me.

I tried many medicalised approaches towards recovery – counselling, medication and workshops. I still take medication now and counselling has become more of an integral part of my life in that there are people I now know I can talk to. The one thing that has stayed consistent throughout my recovery journey has been nature and in particular, birds.

I’d always liked the outdoors. It was instilled in me as a child but suppressed through years of drug abuse. As I slowly reconfigured my head space, I found so much solace in connecting with being outside. This led to me rediscovering an interest in birds and as I took notice of them when I was out, I found their presence cathartic and calming.

I learnt that birds are consistent in a way that people rarely are. From our own gardens, all the way to large-scale nature reserves, no matter how difficult things are in our world – their world continues. I came to understand their nuances as the seasons changed and how the avian calendar – singing, breeding and migrating; gives us an outlet away from the freneticism of modern life. It’s a constant undercurrent of stability and hope.

They represent a way of living, thinking and being that perhaps we should all aspire to. They are my escape route. My therapy. My Bird Therapy.”

You can find out more about Joe’s book by visiting his website: and you can follow him on Twitter: @BirdTherapy. We are also very excited to welcome Joe back next year to our 2nd Pensthorpe Bird & Wildlife Fair, on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th May 2020.