Sustainability scholars

As the year for the Planetary Health and Sustainability Committee’s scholars 20/21 draws to a close, Dasal Abayaratne and Adam Monsell reflect on their time as scholars.

Dasal and Adam (alongside Catherine Speedy, the CAMHS Green scholar), have been hugely appreciated members of the busy committee.

During their year as scholars, they have grabbed the opportunity to think about issues pertinent to the climate ecological crisis and how they can embed these into their work as mental healthcare professionals. Whilst Adam had been working with the committee for some time, Dasal has long been passionate about climate action, but until recently had not been aware of the cross-over with psychiatry.

He tells us about his journey:

“Over the last few years, I became more aware of how climate and nature changes drive mental illness, but also how health systems contribute. As a junior doctor though, I felt unsure about what I could do. Nevertheless, I was able to slowly connect with others and start small projects locally. It was through this that I learned of the work of the Sustainability Committee and the Sustainability Scholars. When the opportunity arose, I applied to be a scholar, but did not think I would be successful as I didn’t have much experience. However, what I did have was a genuine passion.
“That passion has been warmly nurtured by the Sustainability Committee. They are a supportive team who equally value and inspire. With their encouragement, I have been able to successfully develop local active travel projects, enabling staff to shift from cars to e-bikes. This scheme has been avidly taken up by staff and will shortly be expanding. Alongside this, I have been involved in development of my local trusts’ green plans and medical school sustainability teaching.”

While Dasal has been busy with bikes, Adam has been working on a project to create a horticultural therapy group for substance misuse service clients in Islington. The aim was to create a space where people could do something focused, productive and allow them to connect with their surroundings in a way that would be beneficial for their mental and physical health. The scheme has been as a huge success, as he remarks:

“The evidence base for the impact of green spaces on physical and mental health is strong and growing even stronger - we wanted to capitalise on this, especially given that many clients don’t have access to their own outside space.
“We identified a disused area attached to a day centre for substance misuse services and, partnering with a local third sector organisation, Eagle Recovery, and a horticultural therapist from a local community garden, turned it into a space that could facilitate a gardening project. The results have been fantastic – our feedback has been that clients look forward to the group every week and we now have a waitlist that stretches until October.”

Both scholars have achieved an enormous amount beyond their individual projects. They have been involved in several committee projects, such as creating sustainability standards for CCQI networks, representing the committee at conferences, making connections with various faculties at the college and writing several pieces for newsletters and other healthcare organisations.

Adam has also had the opportunity to co-author a review piece on what mental health professionals and organisations should do about climate change, published as part of the BJPsych’s forthcoming special issue on the climate and ecological emergency. This has led to him being asked to co-author a book chapter on the subject, so look out for that! Both have used the year to be amazing advocates by contributing to the conversation on how to promote sustainability aims into the provision of healthcare, as Dasal affirms:

“It is the wider advocacy part of being a scholar that is the most rewarding. Over the last year I’ve been able to speak to hundreds of health workers. Many are unaware of the links between climate change and mental health.
“However, it is gratifying to hear how empowered they often are after hearing the facts and the steps the Sustainability Committee set out for individuals and trusts to take.”

Through their commitment, both feel that they have achieved a level of influence well beyond these boundaries. Adam comments that being a sustainability scholar has “opened doors that might otherwise have remained shut – senior managers and clinicians are interested in the link to the college that it brings, and I can talk about potential publicity that might go alongside a proposed project.”

He will be continuing to build on his experience in sustainable healthcare as part of his special interest day next year, working towards formalising and implementing his trust’s Green Plan over the course of the next 12 months.

On the question of his future, Dasal remarks:

“As a Sustainability scholar I have felt increasingly empowered. I have been able to attend and speak at many conferences, board meetings and liaise with numerous high-level colleagues, thus enabling change and developing skills I didn’t think possible. I initially thought that it was my new sustainability scholar title that ‘opened the door’.
“Whilst this undoubtedly helped, I feel that a newfound sense of agency and confidence in what I was doing that played as big a part. It is this, alongside other transferable leadership skills, that will stay with me long after my time as a scholar. A sense of values driven care, empowerment of myself and others. Whilst as an individual we can only make small changes, collectively these can have a huge ripple effect.”

Looking for 2021/22 Sustainability scholars

The College is advertising for the 21/22 scholars – find out how to apply.

If you would like to know more about Dasal’s and Adam’s projects, or how you could start a green initiative, please contact Ros Steele, the Planetary Health and Sustainability Committee manager, who can point you in the right direction.


Back to our July 2021 eNewsletter.

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